Goodbye to all of that
Source of picture: www.gas2.org
By John Richardson in Mumbai for the Asia Petrochemical Industry Conference (APIC)
EXISTING Saudi Arabian crackers will continue to run at less than 100% until the Kingdom's oil production returns to 10m bbl/day - and that's not going happen for some considerable time, an industry source told the blog earlier this week in the build-up to APIC.
"I visited Saudi recently and discovered with oil production hovering in the region of 8m bbl/day (it was 8.26m bbl/day in April) there's not enough associated gas around to generate the ethane necessary for these established crackers to run at full rates," he added.
"Until production returns to 10m bbl/day ethane will remain tight for these crackers.
"For Saudi Arabia, maintaining the oil price at $70-80 bbl/day has bigger financial and geopolitical considerations than helping petrochemicals out.
"I think the US is happy with $70-80 bbl/day as oil is expensive-enough to deter the wasteful consumption of earlier this decade that contributed to spiralling crude prices. The days of the gas-guzzling SUVs (and similar vehicles such as the disgusting Hummer - pictured above) need to be over for good.
"I don't think global oil demand is going to return to 2006 levels for a long while, and so this means Saudi will have to stick to its OPEC production quota - which is around 8m bbl/day - to keep crude within the $70-80 bbl/day price-range."
There might be enough propane and butane available, but as downstream plants in these existing complexes produce mainly polyethylene (PE) and mono-ethylene glycol (MEG), this is unlikely to be of much help.
As for the new wave of crackers being brought on--stream at the moment, there is, as you would expect, also not enough ethane gas to go around.
"If a new cracker has an ethylene nameplate of above 1m tonne/year it is not going to be able to produce more than a million tonnes in the foreseeable future," said a second industry.
Saudi Aramco is making strenuous efforts to boost natural-gas production, but there doesn't seem to be any great confidence among the industry sources I have spoken to that this will lead to a big easing of the ethane supply shortage.
More immediately, the feedstock issue is combining with problems in starting up and stabilising production at new plants to keep PE - and also polypropylene (PP) markets tight.
It's not the same story for MEG if China inventory levels are anything to go by as we will discuss later on.
And returning to the feedstock issue, the blog will canvass more views among the delegates gathering for APIC.