InterviewFluor sees 4-6 crackers built in the US

29 November 2012 22:09  [Source: ICIS news]

Fluor sees 4-6 crackers built in the USBy Joseph Chang

NEW YORK (ICIS)--Between four to six worldscale crackers are likely to be built in the US in the coming years, leading to as many as 35,000 skilled craft labourers working in the US Gulf coast alone by 2015, the head of US-based Fluor’s energy and chemicals business said on Thursday.

“Looking at the engineering, procurement and construction aspects, the construction part will be biggest challenge in terms of securing enough skilled labour,” said Peter Oosterveer, president of Fluor’s energy & chemicals business.

“We can easily see a peak of 35,000 skilled craft labourers and that will be a challenge. But we believe we can secure substantial craft resources,” he added.

One way to alleviate the labour strain is to fabricate components off site, a capability Fluor has developed and expanded in the past few years, said Oosterveer.

“We can modulise these complex components complete with piping and instruments anywhere – from Mexico, the Philippines, to Canada and the US,” he said.

“This would take the strain away from the peak level of craft resources in the US, reducing dependency on local resources,” Oosterveer added.

This offsite modulisation of the construction process will be a major factor in taming cost inflation in the construction phase, he said.

“The cost inflation is not going to be as bad as it was in 2007 and 2008, when all the sectors – upstream, downstream, chemicals and offshore – were undergoing an up-cycle,” said Oosterveer.

The president sees the craft labour force dedicated to chemical plant construction in the US Gulf coast peaking in early 2015.

Most petrochemical companies are in the early part of the front-end engineering design (FEED) phase with respect to their crackers, a process that takes between 10-16 months, noted Oosterveer.

Most construction would start in early 2014, with a peak in labour required in early 2015.

There will also be a constraint on equipment, so the procurement process is likely to begin even before the FEED phase is complete, he said.

“Clients all want to be first, so there is pressure on petrochemical companies to get to the market as soon as they can. And the market for equipment is going to heat up,” Oosterveer said.

“Many will order long-lead equipment before the end of their FEED and final investment decision,” he added.

Fluor is working with companies such as Dow Chemical and Shell on US petrochemical projects, said Oosterveer.

Fluor has already completed the FEED for Dow’s propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant to produce propylene in Freeport, Texas, scheduled to come on line in mid-2015.

In September it announced it won the contract for the project’s engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) services.

“PDH appears to be the preferred route to make propylene, so we expect to see a few more of these facilities being built – from both pure-play chemical companies and [oil and gas] integrated companies,” said Oosterveer.

Fluor is also in discussions with Dow on its planned new world-scale cracker and derivative projects in Freeport, he said.

“With our track record in the US and in chemicals, we see the shale gas impact on chemicals as very exciting for our business,” said Oosterveer.

“We have resources worldwide and can move the work to the people rather than the other way around, mitigating the ups and downs in engineering and construction costs,” he added.

By: Joseph Chang
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