New investment is expanding the U.S. petrochemical industry's position as a global producer, Steve Pryor, president of ExxonMobil Chemical, said in a speech at the IHS CERAWeek 2013 conference Tuesday.
"For the first time in more than a decade, major capacity additions have been announced that convert ethane, a natural gas liquid, to ethylene, the largest petrochemical building block," Pryor said. He estimated the announced additions are equivalent to six to eight new world-scale steam crackers.
"While all announced projects may not materialize, the U.S. industry is clearly poised to expand its position as a leading petrochemical producer. With 85 percent of global demand growth projected to occur in emerging markets, this is great news for U.S. exports," Pryor said.
ExxonMobil Chemical has filed permit applications for a multibillion-dollar expansion at its Baytown, Texas, site, already the country's largest integrated refining-chemical producing site. The project will convert ethylene from a new world-scale steam cracker to premium polyethylene products to serve growing markets around the world. Feedstock and energy supplies will be coordinated with ExxonMobil's upstream business.
Pryor estimated that the project would provide 10,000 jobs at the peak of construction. The proposed project would also have a multiplier effect and create an additional 3,800 other jobs in the area and increase regional economic activity by $870 million per year, he added.
"Just five years ago, American chemical production was in steady decline due largely to the rising price of natural gas," Pryor said. "The U.S. was on the verge of becoming a net chemical importer. Growing supplies of shale gas and gas liquids have changed all that. North American chemical manufacturers now have a major cost advantage over competitors around the world that rely on more expensive, oil-based feedstocks. This has boosted profitability and enabled the industry to regain its position as America's largest exporter."