Eagle Ford shale to boost US petrochemical export

Jan. 7, 2013

Plentiful shale gas resources in Texas are set to help its petrochemical industry expand not just on the domestic market but also overseas.

Plentiful shale gas resources in Texas are set to help its petrochemical industry expand not just on the domestic market but also overseas, a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has predicted.

The Eagle Ford Formation, also known as the Eagle Ford Shale, provides mostly ethane and its production means that Texas might increase its export of ethylene and finished plastics by a third by 2017, the report estimated. It claims that the Eagle Ford Shale could be the most profitable oil field in the world. According to J. Michael Yeager, chief executive officer of BHP Billiton Petroleum, quoted by the American Enterprise Institute, Eagle Ford wells cost between $7 million and $10 million but these sums are paid back within six months.

Texas already produces about 12 percent of all plastics exported from the United States and accounts for almost three-quarters of the national ethylene capacity. Ethylene is produced by cracking ethane which is found in the natural gas stream and is a key material for the production of vinyl and polyethylene plastics.

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The author of the report, business economist Jesse Thompson, claimed that Texas enjoys a cost advantage internationally, as plastics produced from ethane are cheaper that those that are oil-based and made from naphtha. The positive outlook for the industry is supported by the fact that Texas' production capacity could grow further. The United States is currently planning 11 ethane cracker expansions, with all but one set to be located in Texas or Louisiana, because of the strong export market and a 40 percent decline in ethane prices, which have reached their lowest level in two decades.

Thompson explained that over the past 10 years the volume of export of petrochemical products had increased, especially lately as shipments have been soaring thanks to low prices and opening foreign markets. He also projected that over the next few years domestic production of ethylene products will significantly outweigh U.S. demand, which would lead to a dramatic growth in petrochemical exports, particularly from Texas.

Overall, Thompson concluded that the United States, and Texas in particular, have become a highly profitable market for investors in petroleum plants. The development of the industry is beneficial in other aspects, as manufacturing and selling the machinery used in constructing new petrochemical plants also gives a boost to U.S. firms operating in the sector, he explained.

Meanwhile, the Eagle Ford Shale also accounted for the majority of the counties in Texas which saw the biggest sales tax revenue increases registered in 2012. Kinney County, which is part of the Maverick Basin, the northwestern part of the Eagle Ford shale area, came on top of the league of counties, with a 185 percent increase in sales tax revenues in 2011/2012. Terrell County and Dickens County followed closely behind, with sales tax increases of 180.4 percent and 171 percent, respectively. Another county touching the Eagle Ford Shale, Karnes County, ranked at number four, with a rise of 134.8 percent to almost $8 million.

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