|The US petrochemical industry may spend US$30 bln to build plants that convert natural gas from shale formations into plastics. Shale gas has made American production the cheapest outside the Middle East. Output from shale formations will yield enough natural-gas liquids such as ethane to support about five new plants that produce ethylene and related plastics, as per Mark Lashier of Chevron Phillips. Each facility will cost US$5-6 bln and will be built over more than a decade. The emergence of the USA as a key player in the chemicals export market on the back of lower domestic gas prices has changed the dynamic of global export flows. Since 2008, the US has averaged polyethylene (PE) exports of 2.5 mln tpa � four times the average level over 1990-2007.
Shell Oil Co. is about to unveil the site of a future US$2 bln petrochemical production unit, a project that symbolizes the natural gas-driven resurgence of the US chemical industry - a giant ethylene cracker, which converts the ethane found in natural gas into ethylene, near the natural-gas rich Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies much of the U.S. Northeast. This would be the first ethylene cracker built in the country since 2000; its construction illustrates the revival of the U.S. petrochemical industry, which by the end of the last decade had been considered moribund amid high prices for natural gas liquids. At that time, US chemical manufacturers could barely fend off imports from the Middle East and Asia, which had better access to cheaper gas. But hydraulic fracturing has made NGLs abundant and cheaper; prices for ethane, the most common natural gas liquid, are currently a third of the high they hit in July 2008, according to Platts. West Virginia and Pennsylvania both passed laws offering tax incentives for large construction projects. The West Virginia law passed caps property taxes at 5% for 25 years for any ethylene cracker costing US$2 bln or more built in the state--the same amount Shell estimates its project will cost. All neighboring states will benefit from the expected resulting pipeline and other infrastructure projects.
Shell, Dow Chemical and other companies are searching for new ways to transform that abundance into revenue. The other crackers are being planned by ChevronPhillips, Dow Chemical, Formosa Plastics Corp, LyondellBasell and South African chemical producer Sasol Ltd. Output from shale formations will yield enough natural-gas liquids such as ethane to support about five new plants that produce ethylene and related plastics, said Mark Lashier, an executive vice president at Chevron Phillips. The company is spending US$5 bln to build a new ethylene plant in Baytown, Texas, by 2017 as well as two polyethylene plants and related infrastructure. US plastics exports may surge as new plants start, creating the need for new infrastructure to handle the increased shipments like port, rail and trucking capacity in place to get their products to Europe and Asia by the most efficient means. Currently, the major activity at these ports is import of petrochemicals that will change to exports � reversing that flow.