NPRA ’09: Political, economic challenges loom for IPC

28 March 2009 17:00  [Source: ICIS news]

NPRA WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Top officials from around the world gather in San Antonio, Texas, this weekend for the 34th annual International Petrochemicals Conference (IPC) as the industry continues to face political, environmental and economic challenges.

Charlie Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), sponsor and host of the conference, said this year “promises to be an eventful one for the petrochemical community - and indeed for the entire world”.

In a welcoming note to those attending the three-day meeting, Drevna highlighted “the change and uncertainty we face in the form of a new administration and Congress here in the United States”.

That sea-change in US politics - with expanded Democrat majorities in Congress and Democrat President Barack Obama in the White House - could play out in multiple areas affecting the domestic and even international petrochemicals markets, Drevna noted.

Global climate change will remain a prominent issue this year,” Drevna said, “as both the administration and Democrat leaders in Congress have promised to seek swift action on measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.”

Congress also is gearing up to reform and update the principal US chemicals control programme, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. 

Environmentalists and many in Congress want to see that key statute recast along the precautionary principle lines of the European programme for registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (Reach).

Congress also is soon to produce revised requirements giving federal officials authority over antiterrorism security measures at US chemical facilities deemed at high risk for a terrorist attack. 

Some in the federal legislature want that regulatory structure - the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) - to include a new federal mandate to impose inherently safer technology (IST) measures on plant processes, feedstocks and products.

But it is “the troubled economy that impacts all of us around the globe”, Drevna said.

On that topic, Drevna said that “we are glad to have internationally acclaimed economist Todd Buchholz give our opening keynote address on Monday morning”.

IPC participants also will hear Edward Merrow of Independent Project Analysis, Inc outline the potential and risks for capital construction in the volatile global economy.

Dow Chemical’s Jack Broodo, director of the company’s feedstocks business development, will underscore the value of investments in transportation infrastructure, and Kish Kehmani of A. T. Kearny will advise on supply chain planning in uncertain times.

The growth challenges and opportunities facing petrochemical companies will be discussed in a panel featuring NOVA Chemicals Chief Executive Jeff Lipton and James Chao, chairman of Westlake Chemical, joined by Bruce Macklin, senior vice president for global operations at ExxonMobil Chemical.

While there will be plenty of meetings on the sidelines Sunday through Tuesday, the formal conference programme will conclude on Tuesday with a keynote address on global restructuring by former Soviet Union president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mikhail Gorbachev, who arguably knows more than most about change management.

The turbulent economic climate also is reflected in the IPC this year through reduced participation.  More than 2,200 executives from among 600 companies representing 40 nations had preregistered by the weekend prior to the meeting, according to NPRA officials.

Although some walk-ins were likely, the number of pre-sold seats suggests that this year’s IPC could see the lowest turnout since 2003 when attendance was kept to 2,575 by the onset of the US invasion of Iraq and a travel scare brought on by the epidemic of SARS (sever acute respiratory syndrome).

The highpoint for IPC participation was 1998 when 4,100 registered, and more recent sessions of the global petchem conference have been relatively steady at around 3,200-3,300.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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