Royal Dutch Shell plans to build a new world-scale ethylene cracker in the Appalachia region of USA, in a bid to capitalize on its exposure to Marcellus Shale natural gas. Shell owns the natural gas rights for about 700,000 gross acres in the Marcellus, mostly in Pennsylvania, as per icis.com. Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio are the three states shortlisted for the cracker location.
Shell is well positioned to make such an investment. In Q2-2011, the company posted a 74% year-on-year gain in earnings to US$8 bln with its Shell Chemicals unit posting a 19% increase in earnings to $530 mln. Its debt/capital ratio at the end of the second quarter was just 12%, providing plenty of financial flexibility for investment. As the balance of Shell's production has shifted from crude to natural gas, explains Iain Lo, vice president of new business development and ventures for Shell Chemicals, the company has been seeking opportunities to integrate chemicals with gas. About a year ago, the company was encouraged by the decoupling of gas from crude oil and its purchase of US energy exploration company East Resources. "Marcellus jumped out as a potential opportunity in terms of availability of feedstock," says Lo.