Qatar Petroleum buys into Singapore petchems

Just picked up on the interesting news (not sure how big a deal this is) after attending one of those long interminably-long internal planning meetings. But on this occasion we at least were discussing something useful – not just the new colour for the carpet in reception.

So why has Qatar Petroluem bought into Petrochemical Corp of Singapore (PCS) and The Polyolefins Co (TPC).

Interesting that the PetroRabigh marketing arm – the joint venture betweeen Saudi Aramco and Sumitomo for the new plant in Saudi Arabia – is run from Singapore by Sumitomo.

This Dow Jones report, from a former colleague of mine, quotes Ben Van Beurden, executive vice president of Shell, as saying the following: “One of the critical success factors of any petrochemical venture…is access to competitive feedstock.

“I’m hopeful that condensate and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) will flow from Qatar to Singapore as a result of QPI taking an interest in these joint ventures.”

That makes a lot of sense as feedstock advantage is going to be crucial for an older and smaller cracker-derivatives complex such as PCS-TPC to compete in the and far more difficult environment.

The giant new Middle East crackers have big scale and raw material advantages.

One of the responses to date from the very experienced and very capable guys at TPC has been to work the trade advantages within the Asean region, concentrate on relationships and higher value-added grades.

Shell Eastern Petroleum operates a 500,000-bbl/day refinery on Pulau Bukom.

The company is building a petrochemical complex comprising an 800,000-tonne/year steam cracker and MEG unit, using Shell’s Omega technology, due on-stream in Q2 2010.

This cracker will be fed by hydrowax from an updgraded hydrocracker at the same site and so it is not clear whether feedstock from Qatar will also be an option for this facility.

In Qatar, Shell and Qatar Petroleum are building the $18bn Pearl gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant scheduled for completion by the end of 2010.

Condensate will be be produced from the GTL plant, which has been entirely funded by Shell. This condendate has been evaluated for producing petrochemicals in Qatar.

Shell has a cracker project in Qatar likely to start-up only after 2012.

The Anglo-Dutch major has also talked about more petrochemicals in China to build on its existing CNOOC joint-venture Nanhai cracker and derivatives project.

Again, whether the closer relationship with Qatar will have any implications for these plans remains to be seen. The Chinese want mainly one of two things from any potential new petrochemical JV partner – energy supplies (oil or gas) and/or technology.

“If we contemplate new ¬≠investments in chemicals, they only make sense if we can continue to build integrated positions and they rank favourably with our overall capital investment programme,” van Beurden told me in an interview last year.

“Everything we want to do in chemicals must be integrated with the rest of Shell. Capital goes first to upstream projects and so chemical investments have to make a lot of sense and clear very high hurdles.”

Sumitomo retains its interest in PCS and TPC and so – as often is the case in deals like these – the internal parent-company competitive landscape has shifted.

The Sumitomo part of TPC, now with Qatar Petroleum as a partner, is competing with the Sumitomo share in a new Middle East producer – PetroRabigh!

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