Shell lists capacity for proposed cracker, 3 PE plants in northeast

Author: Al Greenwood


Site of proposed Shell complexHOUSTON (ICIS)--Shell specified the ethylene and polyethylene (PE) capacity for its proposed petrochemical complex that it plans to build in the northeast US, according to a permit obtained on Wednesday.

Shell may build the complex in Monaca, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. The complex would rely on ethane produced in the nearby Marcellus shale.

Shell plans to start construction in late 2015 and continue for about 24 months, the company said in an air-quality plan approval application it filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Operations could start in 2018.

The cracker could produce 1.5m tonnes/year, Shell said. In all, the plant will have seven cracking furnaces.

The company may build three PE units that will have a combined capacity of 1.6m tonnes/year, Shell said. Two of the plants will be gas-phase units, each with a capacity of 550,000 tonnes/year. The third plant will be a slurry unit with a capacity of 500,000 tonnes/year.

The gas-phase units will produce high-density PE (HDPE) and linear low density PE (LLDPE), Shell said. These units will use co-monomers, although Shell did not specify which ones.

The slurry unit will produce just HDPE, Shell said. However, co-monomers 1-butene and 1-hexene will also feed into the unit.

The required steam and electricity will be supplied by three cogeneration units, fuelled by natural gas, Shell said. Excess electricity will be sold for use within the region.

The complex will include all of the ancillary units that Shell will need to support a standalone PE complex, the company said. This includes a wastewater treatment plant, storage, logistics, two cooling towers, emergency flares, buildings and warehouses.

Shell has yet to make a final investment decision on the project, and it has not put the project out for construction bidding, an executive said earlier in the year.

Nonetheless, the company has made steady progress on the proposed complex.

Linde is conducting the front-end engineering and design (FEED) work for the project. Previous plans for a monoethylene glycol (MEG) unit at the site have been shelved.

Shell was the first company to propose building a large petrochemical complex in the northeast US to take advantage of new sources of ethane being produced in the nearby Marcellus shale.

One midstream company, MarkWest, has been particularly aggressive in building natural-gas processing plants and fractionators − all necessary infrastructure needed to strip the natural gas liquids (NGLs) that Shell will need for its proposed complex.

The project would be far from the nation's petrochemical hub in the US Gulf coast. However, Shell will have close access to industrial customers in the northeast US.

Brazilian contractor Odebrecht may also build a PE complex in the northeast US. If built, it will be operated by Braskem.

The Ascent (Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise) complex would be built in Wood county, West Virginia, and it would have an ethane cracker and three PE units.

The capacity of Ascent has not been announced, but Braskem CEO Carlos Fadigas has said earlier that it could match the scope of the Ethylene XXI project it is developing in Mexico with Grupo Idesa.

Ethylene XXI involves a 1.05m tonne/year cracker, two high density PE (HDPE) plants with capacities of 350,000 tonnes/year and 400,000 tonnes/year, as well as one 300,000 tonne/year low density PE (LDPE) plant.

If Odebrecht and Shell do build their complexes, they will not have sole access to the feedstocks in the Marcellus. Already, a pipeline is transporting ethane to the US Gulf coast, and a terminal will ship the feedstock overseas to Europe.

The northeast projects are among several being developed in the US. The following shows the crackers and PE plants announced.

Company Capacity Location Start-up
Chevron Phillips Chemical 1.5m tonnes Texas mid-late 2017
ExxonMobil Chemical 1.5m tonnes Texas 2017
Dow Chemical 1.5m tonnes Texas 2017
Sasol 1.5m tonnes Louisiana 2017
Formosa Plastics 1.75m short tons Texas Q1 2017
Formosa Plastics 1.2m tonnes Louisiana NA
Occidental Chemical/Mexichem 544,000 tonnes Texas 2017
Axiall/Lotte World-scale Louisiana 2018
Shell 1.5m tonnes Pennsylvania 2018
Odebrecht World-scale West Virginia NA
Shin-Etsu 500,000 tonnes Louisiana NA
Williams/partner 1.5m tonnes Louisiana NA 
Company Project Capacity Grades Location Start-up
Sasol New unit 450,000 tonnes LLDPE Louisiana 2016
Sasol New unit 420,000 tonnes LDPE Louisiana NA
Sasol/INEOS New unit 470,000 tonnes HDPE Texas 2016
Braskem New unit NA UHMWPE Texas H1 2016
ExxonMobil New units 1.3m tonnes PE (premium) Texas Late 2016
Chevron Phillips New units 1m tonnes HDPE, LLDPE, other Texas 2017
Dow Chemical New units NA PE (high-value), LDPE Texas 2017
Formosa Plastics New unit 625,500 short tons LDPE Texas 2017
Shell New units 1.6m tonnes HDPE, LLDPE Pennsylvania 2018
Odebrecht New units NA Unspec West Virginia NA
LyondellBasell Debottleneck 100,000 tonnes Unspec US Early 2014
LyondellBasell New unit 454,000 tonnes Unspec US Mid 2017

Additional reporting by Jeremy Pafford

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