Saudi Feedstock Pricing May Change Next Year

What’s the gas?


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By John Richardson

SAUDI Arabian feedstock pricing arrangements for ethane, liquefied natural gas (LPG) and naphtha could change in 2011 – affecting the competitiveness of existing and future investments, two well-placed sources have told this blog.

Ethane is currently still priced at around 75 cents/mBTU and there is a formula for LPG, based on a discount from prevailing CFR Japan naphtha prices, we have been told.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether any change in how ethane is priced would affect existing or only future plants.

But the LPG discount available to Saudi Arabia’s mixed-feed crackers and its propane dehydrogenation (PDH)-to-polypropylene plants has been reduced by one percentage point per year since 2003, one of the sources said.

“It now stands at a net discount of 20% (we’ve also been told it is still 28%) with a lack of clarity on what’s going to happen next year, as is the case with ethane and naphtha – it’s up to the government,” he added.

The current formula for naphtha pricing wasn’t immediately available, but naphtha use for petrochemicals is minimal in Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps not so in the future as the Kingdom continues to deal with an ethane gas shortage due to dwindling additional supplies via associated gas.

Rising demand for natural gas for power generation is also an issue for Saudi petrochemicals, as is the case across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.

The economics of cracking naphtha in Saudi compared with natural gas is being questioned compared with the alternative of shipping the feedstock out to naphtha crackers in Asia. This might now change in either direction.

The second source made the point that even if ethane and LPG prices are adjusted, Saudi’s gas cracker and PDH competitiveness – especially in a high oil price environment – will remain very strong.

“A change to how ethane is priced might actually be a good thing as it will mean an even closer look at the viability of future investments,” he said.

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