Price & Market Trends: Third methanol plant in Trinidad shut down on lack of natural gas

21 September 2012 11:05  [Source: ICB]

A third methanol plant in Trinidad, Methanex's Atlas unit, is going down for planned maintenance to coincide with more natural gas cutbacks in the Caribbean country, industry sources said.

Methanex Atlas plantTrinidad's energy ministry said the shortfall in the country's natural gas supply required "coordinated maintenance" by Canada-based Methanex and other producers in coming weeks because of work being done on two offshore natural gas platforms.

Methanex officials could not be reached for more details.


Trinidad's energy ministry issued a statement saying the maintenance work by producers would coincide with work being done for 34-50 day periods on BP's Kapok and the British Gas (BG) Dolphin platforms extending to 23 October.

"It should be noted that each of these companies has more than one plant and not all of them will be offline at the same time," said the energy ministry.

BP and BG are Trinidad and Tobago's largest natural gas producers, according to the ministry.

Methanex has two plants in Trinidad - the 1.8m tonne/year Atlas unit and the 850,000 tonne/year Titan plant, both at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate.

One source said the work on a catalyst change at the Atlas unit would last for most of October.

The National Gas Co (NGC) of Trinidad and Tobago notified local chemical plants that a previously announced curtailment in the company's natural gas deliveries of up to 30% during the month of September would begin at some point between 10 and 20 September.

A source close to Methanol Holdings (Trinidad) Limited (MHTL), which operates five methanol plants on the island, has scheduled 25 days of maintenance on two plants in response to the curtailment.

MHTL's 580,000 tonne/year M4 unit was taken down on 1 September for 15 days, which will be followed by a 10-day shutdown of the 1.9m tonne/year M5000 plant.

PotashCorp, which operates four ammonia plants at the Point Lisas complex, said it will take down its 556,000 tonne/year plant.


Data from Trinidad's central bank show that the curtailments have hampered methanol production.

Output from methanol plants in Trinidad has declined each year since the curtailments began in late 2010 - down by 3% in 2010, by less than 1% in 2011, and by 9% in the first six months this year, according to data from the country's central bank.

US MethanolMethanol exports have also declined, by 3% each year in 2010 and 2011 and by 9% in the first six months of 2012.

Trinidad is the largest source of methanol for the US, supplying 65-70% of American imports in any given month.

Anything more than a seasonal decline in the Caribbean country's production sends an alert to producers in the US Gulf coast, which is the hub of the North American petrochemical industry.

The message apparently got through, because a recurrent trend in North American methanol since the gas curtailments began in 2010 has been growing competition from the US as a production centre.

While this has more to do with the shale gas revolution in the US than it does with Trinidad's gas shortfall problem, there is no doubt that the tiny Caribbean country next to Venezuela is being bypassed as a site for future methanol production.

Quite literally by Methanex, for example, which operates two methanol plants in Trinidad but plans to move one of its idled units in Chile by ship to southern Louisiana by 2014.


Methanol sources also say that talk of other projects in Trinidad - the proposed SABIC/Sinopec project announced earlier this year and the proposed sale of BP's ownership in the Atlas plant - has been silenced as the gas cutbacks continued.

The natural gas curtailments have also had an impact on ammonia production.

PotashCorp, which operates four ammonia plants at the Point Lisas complex, planned to take down its 556,000 tonne/year 01 plant on 16 September for a maintenance turnaround that is expected to last 21 days.

Yara, which operates three plants at Point Lisas, said it would shut down its Tringen 1 plant when the curtailment begins.

By: Lane Kelley
+1 713 525 2653

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