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Shale Dominates Another Year

by Alexander H. Tullo
December 23, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 51

Credit: Tony Kershaw/Rex Features
Protesters being arrested as they attempt to stop workers from getting to a fracking well in Balcombe, England.
Photos of fracking-well protesters being arrested in Balcombe, England.
Credit: Tony Kershaw/Rex Features
Protesters being arrested as they attempt to stop workers from getting to a fracking well in Balcombe, England.


Shale Dominates Another Year

The U.S. remained the world’s principal driver for chemical capacity growth in 2013. The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, issued a report in May stating that low-cost feedstocks from shale had to date spurred $71.7 billion in new-capacity projects. Construction, plant operations, and indirect jobs stimulated by the additional spending could combine to create 500,000 new jobs for the U.S.

The year saw more announcements of big new plants meant to take advantage of shale. Total said it is considering the construction of an ethylene cracker at its Port Arthur, Texas, site. Odebrecht, the Brazilian conglomerate that owns a controlling stake in the petrochemical maker Braskem, said it plans to build an ethylene cracker and three polyethylene plants in Parkersburg, W.Va.

Ascend Performance Materials announced plans for a $1.2 billion propane dehydrogenation plant at its Alvin, Texas, site. The company will use the resulting propylene to make acrylonitrile, a nylon precursor.

Nitrogen fertilizer makers cashed in on shale big time in 2013. Mosaic unveiled plans to build a $700 million ammonia plant in Louisiana. Koch Nitrogen said it will build a $1 billion urea plant in Oklahoma. Corn growers formed Northern Plains Nitrogen to build a $1.5 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant in North Dakota. Russian fertilizer maker EuroChem said it is evaluating a $1.5 billion ammonia and urea plant for Louisiana.


“If industry doesn’t fight for its existence in Europe, society will shut it down.”

- Clariant CEO Hariolf Kottmann on chemical industry efforts to control European energy costs

Shale is a resource that many European chemical executives wish they had. They are watching their region lose out to the U.S. and the Middle East and want their governments to do something about it. “Further unilateral increases in EU energy costs would make many basic chemicals produced in the EU uncompetitive, with knock-on effects down the whole value chain,” BASF Chairman Kurt W. Bock warned European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

But many obstacles stand in the way of developing shale in Europe. The Continent is more densely populated than is North America, and environmental activists opposed to shale fuel extraction seem to have the ears of politicians. “As long as I am president, there will be no exploration for shale in France,” French President François Hollande told French television.



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