NPE ’12: Federal focus on fracking not seen as threat to shale gas

02 April 2012 18:50  [Source: ICIS news]

ORLANDO, Florida (ICIS)--Increasing federal regulatory focus on hydraulic fracturing will not impede US development of shale gas resources and the resulting revival in the nation’s plastics sector, a top industry official said on Monday.

Bill Carteaux, president of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), said at a press conference that he did not think expanding federal regulatory attention to shale gas production will bar access those newly abundant natural gas energy and feedstock resources.

Speaking on the first full day of the 2012 international NPE plastics conference, Carteaux said the availability and low cost of natural gas supplies from shale formations has played a major role in the US manufacturing revival and “has had a dramatic impact on our plastics industry”.

This year’s NPE is the first to be held since US shale gas production has emerged as a major cost-savings feedstock factor for domestic resins manufacturers and their downstream applications customers. The last NPE was in Chicago, Illinois, in June 2009.

Carteaux noted that US resins manufacturing uses natural gas for 80% of its feedstock, giving US producers a cost advantage over foreign plastics firms who use more costly oil-derived naphtha feedstocks.

“Shale gas is creating a positive future for our industry, perhaps for decades to come,” he said.

But the drilling technique that is key to ongoing shale gas resource development, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), is coming under increasing criticism from environmentalists and scrutiny by federal regulators.

Ten different federal agencies have launched as many as 14 separate regulatory initiatives aimed at determining the environmental impact of fracking and whether federal regulation or restriction of the technique is necessary.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alone has launched five regulatory initiatives related to fracking. 

Some in the US energy sector and among gas-dependent chemicals manufacturers worry that EPA and other watchdog agencies could effectively shut down shale gas development.

But Carteaux said he is not worried.

“Our manufacturing community recognises the importance of shale gas, and the [Obama] administration recognises the importance of shale gas as well,” he said.

“I don’t have my crystal ball with me, so I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen,” he said, “but there probably will be more regulation of shale gas.”

“However, I don’t think that regulation will be detrimental to industry,” he added.

The 27th triennial National Plastics Exhibition (NPE) opened on Monday and will run through Thursday.

As many as 60,000 registered participants are expected to attend and more than 1,900 companies are exhibiting their products and services at the event.

Now in its 66th year in operation, the NPE is sponsored by SPI, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

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

By: Joe Kamalick
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