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Qatar-Shell Sing Deal Feedstock, Investment Options

Business, China, Company Strategy, Fibre Intermediates, Middle East, Olefins, Projects, Singapore
By John Richardson on 12-Nov-2009

Singapore’s Jurong Island

pcs.jpgSource of picture: www.pcs.com


Qatar Petroleum International (QPI) sees Singapore as a good base for expanding in to the Far East, said CEO Nasser Al-Jaidah yesterday after the announcement of the new partnership with Shell.

QPI and Shell signed a series of agreements on Wednesday to jointly own 50% of Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore (PCS) and 30% of The Polyolefin Company (Singapore) Pte Ltd (TPC), to be held through a joint venture company called QPI and Shell Petrochemicals (Singapore) Pte Ltd.

Sumitomo Chemical’s 70% stake in PCS and 50% share of TPC remain unchanged.

Singapore is becoming an increasingly important energy-storage and trading hub. QPI’s closer relationship with the island state – through the Shell deal – could be key in helping to market and sell big new volumes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Qatar’s enormous LNG ambitions, through joint ventures with the likes of Shell and ExxonMobil, also leave the issue of getting maximum value out of co or by-product LPG.

There are several options for LPG.

The LPG (propane and butane) can be extracted during natural gas and LNG processing.

It could be used by Qatar for petrochemicals in Qatar itself or elsewhere in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) region.

Another option is to ship the LPG to petrochemical and other customers overseas.

“One of the critical success factors of any petrochemicals facility, whether it is in the Middle East or here in Singapore, is access to competitive feedstock,” said Ben van Beurden, executive vice-president of Shell Chemicals, when the deal was announced.

“I’m hopeful that condensates and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) would flow from Qatar to Singapore as a result of [Qatar Petroleum] taking an investment in these joint ventures.”

As we discussed yesterday, this would enable the PCS-TPC joint ventures to better compete against the new wave of bigger feedstock-advantaged Middle East crackers.

Singapore is building an LNG terminal due for completion in mid – to late 2012.

Another probably very unlikely option is to ship “wet” LNG and then extract LPG on arrival. This extraction also involves removing ethane – and so again there’s a petrochemical option here.

And finally, some LNG customers – such as power generators – prefer their gas delivered as “wet”, creating competing economics for extracting LPG and ethane for petrochemicals.

The QPI-Shell deal raises several more questions which this blog is seeking to answer:

*Will this give extra feedstock flexibility to the new Singapore cracker, due on-stream next year? We understand it will be run mainly on hydrowax from an up-graded hydrocracker. But will an option now be to use condensate/naphtha feedstock via Qatar? How would this work as, if at all, as Shell Eastern – which operates the cracker project – is a separate subsidiary?

*The Pearl gas-to-liquids project (another joint venture between Shell and Qatar Petroleum) will produce condensate as well as ultra-low sulphur diesel. Will this condensate, split into naphtha, be sold directly into the merchant market or used for producing petrochemicals in Qatar? Is this still a possible feed for the Shell cracker project in Qatar and/or are other petrochemical options in Qatar? The background to this we understand that there’s a shortage of new gas allocations available from the North Shelf due to an extended moratorium, making it difficult for all the cracker projects in Qatar to go ahead.

*Could the condensate/naphtha from Pearl be supplied to Singapore instead?

*Is developing a new project in China now a priority with QPI over petrochemicals in Qatar?

In China, QPI has a joint venture with PetroChina and Shell (China) Ltd to build a refinery and petrochemical complex at Taizhou in Zhejiang province.

“We are hoping to get approval [for the project] by the end next year,” said Al-Jaidah.

Perhaps the biggest of all the priorities might be this joint venture.

But whether or how the closer relationship between QPI and Shell will accelerate this project is not clear.

China is on the whole looking for one of two things from future petrochemical joint-venture partners: Energy supplies (oil and gas) and technology.

The existing QPI and Shell relationship already firmly ticked both of these boxes.