The growing supply of ethane in USA has reversed the widely-held assumption of the US petrochemical industry losing market share to other regions of the world, as reported by Platts.
Stephen Pryor, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Co. opined that "conventional wisdom" several years ago held the US would be a net importer of petrochemicals by 2010. Instead, fueled by low-priced ethane as a feedstock, US exports of petrochemicals rose 28% in 2010 compared with 2009. Ethane supplies in the US have risen, and prices have dropped -- as supplies from natural gas liquids produced alongside shale gas deposits have risen significantly.
Global petrochemical feedstock has shifted about 8% over the last 3-4 years from heavier feedstocks, such as naphtha, to lighter feedstocks such as ethane or refinery gases. However, growth could be limited by bottlenecks in infrastructure, such as extraction and transportation facilities. These sorts of debottlenecking projects will be the norm, rather than larger projects, which Pryor said entail "significant" financial risk.