Dow sees shale gas ‘renaissance’ for US chemicals sector

08 June 2011 18:41  [Source: ICIS news]

The Dow complex at Freeport TexasWASHINGTON (ICIS)--New and abundant supplies of shale gas have triggered the largest petrochemical investments seen in North America in a generation, a top Dow Chemical official said on Wednesday, and will drive a surge in jobs, domestic business and exports.

Seth Roberts, director of energy and climate change policy at Midland, Michigan-based Dow, told a conference on the impact of shale gas for North America that Dow is “very excited” about opportunities for increased production and exports based on what appears to be a long-term prospect for natural gas feedstock supplies.

“What does the ‘shale gale’ and long-term competitive natural gas prices mean for the chemicals industry?  We at Dow believe it means ‘make it in North America’,” Roberts said in remarks prepared for the conference.

US petrochemical producers and downstream chemical makers are heavily dependent on natural gas as both a feedstock and power supply, and much of US general manufacturing relies on gas for production energy as well.

With domestic US natural gas prices forecast to hold in the range of $4-5/MMBtu into 2012 and beyond, US chemical manufacturers enjoy a significant feedstock cost advantage over most other countries’ chemical sectors that are dependent on higher-priced naphtha derived from increasingly costly crude oil.

Roberts said that the huge new resources represented in growing shale gas developments “could lead to what many are calling a renaissance in the American chemicals industry”.

He said that an analysis that Dow developed in cooperation with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other council members forecasts that a 25% increase in ethane supply from naturalgas resources could spur as much as $16.0bn (€10.9bn) in new capital investments by the chemicals sector to build new petrochemical and derivatives capacity in the US.

That boost in feedstock supply, according to the analysis, also was expected to drive a $32.8bn increase in US chemical production, with a related boost of 17,000 new jobs within the industry and as many as 395,000 additional new hires in related manufacturing sectors and construction.

He said the boom in petrochemical and downstream chemical production, along with related gains in supplier and chemical consuming industries, could add more than $132bn to US economic output.

“Now, some might say that those are pretty big numbers, and I’d say yes they are - and we at Dow are putting our money where our mouth is,” Roberts said.

He said his company has invested more than $600m since 2005 in its US Gulf Coast facilities to take advantage of increased natural gas feedstock supply.

He also cited recent plans announced by Dow “to invest another $4bn over the next three to five years to grow our North American performance business with shale gas liquids”.

“I’ve been in this industry with Dow for over 20 years, and these truly are some of the largest investments I’ve seen Dow make in North America in my career,” he added.

Roberts noted that other US petrochemical firms have announced similar shale gas-related investments and plans.

He said that the feedstock-driven expansion of North American chemicals production has huge potential in years ahead and that it has already had significant impact on US chemicals exports.

“Did you know that the US trade balance for basic chemicals has recently bounced back from a low [deficit] of $10bn to a positive of more than $4.2bn?”

“That’s a swing of over $14bn and a first-time positive trade balance for basic chemicals in over a decade,” he said.

($1 = €0.68)

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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