Very interesting speech from Alan Kirkley, Vice President of Strategy and Portfolio for Shell Chemicals, which first of all goes over the predictable ground of where we are in the cycle and the threat from the Middle East.
However, he then makes the valid point – which I made earlier this week – that the end of the world has not necessarily arrived for the US and Europe.
There are some big question marks over how much more capacity the GCC region will be able to add post-2012, and perhaps even further afield as global LNG markets take off. Gas cracking may no longer as consistently benefit from feedstock at virtually give-away prices.
The likes of Shell and ExxonMobil have existing technology and know-how to make more highly competitive basic petrochemicals – and to take maximum advantage of the petrochemicals/refining interface.
Kirkley predicts that there will be an increasing use of hydrocracking to make petrochemicals, tapping into light ends that have a diminishing value in the gasoline pool and more revamping of catalytic cracking capacity towards olefin production.
Given the likely continued high cost of EPC and raw materials, anybody with a fully depreciated refinery requiring only relatively modest investment could be in a strong position.
But, of course, the first task is to survive the current downturn in one piece.