Methanex sees small chance of idling Chile plant on tight natgas

28 April 2011 21:38  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Methanex’s top executive on Thursday said there was a “low probability” that the company’s lone methanol plant operating in its Chilean complex might have to be shut down in coming months.

Methanex chief executive Bruce Aitken said there was an outside chance the plant could be closed because of problems securing feedstock natural gas supply during the southern hemisphere's winter.

“I am relatively confident that we can get through this winter,” Aitken said, fielding numerous questions in a conference call about the company’s Chilean operations.

Winter begins in May in Punta Arenas, Chile.

Methanex is running only one of the four methanol plants it owns in Punta Arenas because of unreliable natural gas supplies there. Aitken said in January that the Punta Arenas plant’s gas supply might be curtailed in May because of declining reserves at the state-run energy company, Empresa Nacional del Petroleo (ENAP).

The company's latest quarterly report released this week said the one plant ran at 60% capacity in the first quarter.

The report also said that because residential energy demand is at its peak in the winter there was “increased risk that gas supply to our plant could fall below the level necessary to maintain the operation of one plant”.

Aitken said Methanex was even studying the possibility of moving the plant and had a list of 4-5 prospective new locations, but he would not be more specific.

He added that the company has been “a bit unlucky” in its operation in the South American country.

Methanex currently is investing in gas exploration, and by the end of this year will have invested $200m (€136m) in gas exploration there since 2007, an executive said earlier this year. However, exploration companies would rather search for oil than natural gas and that has further complicated Methanex’s energy problem in Chile, Aitken said.

“We’ve been running hard to stand still in the past year or so,” Aitken said of Methanex’s operation in Chile.

($1 = €0.68)

For more on methanol visit ICIS chemical intelligence

By: Lane Kelley
+1 713 525 2653

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