US natgas boon to sustain chemicals sector for years – ACC

11 December 2012 19:57  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The gift of newly abundant natural gas supplies could sustain the US chemicals sector as a global low-cost producer for years to come if federal and state policies allow continuing energy development, a top industry official said on Tuesday.

Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), told a press conference that increasing shale gas production of recent years “presents a great opportunity for our industry”, but “we must ensure that we capitalise on the gift of unconventional gas.”

In a session with reporters in which he reviewed 2012 developments and outlined council goals for the new year, Dooley noted that because of shale gas production, “Our industry has gone from being one of the highest-cost producers just four or five years ago to one of the lowest-cost producers in the world.”

He said that with the long-term supply of domestic US natural gas seemingly available, the nation’s chemicals sector is planning new investments in production capacity of up to $45bn (€34.6bn) over the next four years, with an estimated additional related investment of some $30bn by ancillary industries.

He cited a recent US Energy Department analysis that said that the US could be a leading global exporter of energy by 2030.

“Energy and energy policy remain one of our top priorities” for the new year, Dooley said.

With the US national elections now over, he added, ACC and its member firms also will focus next year on trade issues, because the low-cost feedstock advantage now restored to US chemical producers will greatly increase their potential for much higher foreign sales.

He noted that US chemical exports had increased by 17% in just the past year, and that chemicals are once again a leading sector among all US exports.

Dooley said that within a few months, the ACC would issue a proposal to advance a US-EU trade agreement that among other things would reduce tariffs and allow for greater harmonisation of US-EU chemical controls regulations.

He also identified long-sought reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as a continuing focus for the council next year. 

He said that the ACC has been working for four years and more to get a balanced, science-based modernisation of the 37-year-old TSCA statute, but that he has been disappointed by Democratic-sponsored bills over the past few years.

Dooley said that Senator David Vitter (Republican-Louisiana) is committed to introducing his own version of a TSCA reform bill soon in the new year, adding that a balanced bill could gain support among Democrats as well. Vitter sits on the key Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“We have an opportunity to develop a strong, bipartisan measure to modernise TSCA,” he said.

He said that prospects for US exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) – also drawing on the new domestic natgas abundance – would not necessarily undermine the chemicals industry’s feedstock advantage.

Dooley said that a focus on using the nation’s new energy wealth to continue to invigorate the chemicals sector and other manufacturing would be the best economic use of energy supplies.

“We’re interested in seeing the vast majority of natural gas supplies used here in the US,” he said.

“But we also support free market policies, and we do not oppose the export of LNG,” 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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