US chemicals leader sees broad manufacturing growth ahead

14 May 2012 21:43  [Source: ICIS news]

ACC president Cal Dooley WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A top US petrochemicals industry official said on Monday that increasing supplies of natural gas will trigger a rising tide of energy and materials abundance to benefit the chemicals sector and all domestic manufacturing.

Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said at a natural gas industry meeting that “we now have a tremendous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the US due to the increased supply of natural gas.

“No industry more than chemicals is better positioned to capitalise on this,” he said, noting that in the last five years the US chemicals industry has moved from a high-cost feedstock environment to lowest-cost producer status due to the broad availability and low cost of shale gas.

US chemicals production is about 85% dependent on natural gas as a feedstock, while chemical makers outside of North America rely on oil-derivative naphtha for 75% of their raw material. 

In the last five years domestic US natural gas prices have declined from highs nearing $15/MMBtu to as little as $2/MMBtu or less in recent months.

Dooley pointed out that when the domestic US price of natural gas is at a ratio of 1:7 or more against the global cost of crude, American chemicals producers can be competitive worldwide.

With that gas-to-oil price ratio now at 1:40 or better (with natgas at or slightly above $2 and global crude at $90/bbl or more), the US chemicals sector has returned to a competitive position not seen in decades, even generations.

That increased competitive profile for the chemicals sector, he said, will migrate down the supply chain to help raise the broad range of US manufacturing.

Because chemicals and resin raw materials and intermediates are used in almost all US manufacturing, Dooley said “when the chemicals industry is more competitive, and when we sell down through the supply chain, other manufacturers will see their competitiveness increase as well”.

He likened the impact of shale gas development downstream of chemicals to "not an instant tsunami but an increasingly rising tide” that will spur a renaissance in overall US manufacturing during the next ten years or so.

Dooley said ACC has tracked some 30 major production capital investments totalling some $30bn (€23bn) that are planned for the US by domestic and international chemicals producers to take advantage of the new low-cost feedstock advantage in North America.

He said because it can take up to five years to build such major chemical production facilities, the knock-on cost advantage for a wide range of materials for the broader US manufacturing sector will take some time to work through the supply chain.

Speaking at the Natural Gas Roundtable, a gas sector luncheon event, Dooley called on gas producers to help raise public awareness and support for the industry’s long-sought US comprehensive energy policy.

“We need an all-of-the-above energy policy that doesn’t favour gas or coal or alternatives but lets the market decide” rather than government mandates for use of one energy source over another, he said.

($1 = €0.77)

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

By: Joe Kamalick
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