Heavy US turnaround schedule causes drop in ethane prices

15 February 2012 17:44  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--An abnormally heavy turnaround season for US ethylene crackers has resulted in ethane prices tumbling to lows not seen since 2010, an analyst said on Wednesday.

“I think it’s due to the natural variability of the business,” said analyst Dan Lippe with Petral Consulting Company. “Nothing is ever average; everything is either more or less than average.”

Ethylene crackers typically go through planned maintenance about every five years. However, they are often dealyed and sometimes companies extend unplanned outages to complete planned maintenance ahead of schedule, Lippe said.

The high volume of turnarounds so far this year has dampened ethane demand, analyst Anne Keller with Midstream Energy Group said. Ethane is a primary feedstock for US crackers.

Ethane prices dropped to a low of 43.75 cents/gal on Tuesday, the lowest price for Gulf coast ethane since 20 July 2010.

The price for ethane this time last year was just above 70 cents/gal.

For January through April 2012, there are eight crackers scheduled for turnarounds. Shell’s 862,000 tonne/year Norco cracker in Louisiana completed a three-week turnaround at the end of January.

Current turnarounds include ExxonMobil’s 2.2m tonne/year Baytown cracker in Texas, Dow Chemical's 390,000 tonne/year St Charles cracker in Louisiana and LyondellBasell’s 873,000 tonne/year Channelview cracker in Texas.

BASF, INEOS, DuPont and Chevron Phillips Chemical also have turnarounds planned in the upcoming months.

Lippe suspects one or two of the upcoming turnarounds will be delayed as operators take advantage of the low ethane feedstocks prices.

For the same time period in 2011, there were five ethylene crackers shut down for turnarounds. The work included Dow Chemical’s Plaquemine cracker in Louisiana, ConocoPhillips’ Sweeny cracker in Texas, LyondellBasell’s Channelview cracker in Texas and ConocoPhillips’ Port Arthur cracker in Texas.

Additionally, Dow Chemical’s St Charles cracker in Louisiana was shut down for 11 days due to a power outage in 2011.

By: Sheena Martin
+1 713 525 2653

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