US ExxonMobil gets EPA approval to construct planned cracker

16 May 2014 19:15 Source:ICIS News

(adds comments from ExxonMobil spokesperson, paragraph 4, and from the Environmental Integrity Project, paragraphs 10,11)

HOUSTON (ICIS)--ExxonMobil has received final approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to construct its planned 1.5m tonne/year ethane cracker in Baytown, Texas, the EPA announced on Friday.

The greenhouse gas (GHG) permit, which had been contested by environmental groups, was the last of four permits required before ExxonMobil could move forward with the project.

“ExxonMobil’s petrochemical expansion, enabled by growing supplies of shale energy, will create thousands of new jobs and boost the Houston area economy and tax revenues by nearly a billion dollars a year,” said Stephen Pryor, ExxonMobil Chemical’s president, in an EPA news release. “This export-oriented project is a powerful example of how shale energy can revitalise the US economy in an environmentally responsible manner.”

An ExxonMobil spokesperson said that the company is finalising its plans for the project and would provide further details "when they become available".

The company’s board has not yet made a final investment decision (FID) on the multi-billion dollar project, which ExxonMobil has said would create 10,000 construction jobs and 350 permanent jobs.

Plant operations could start up in late 2016, the US-based chemicals giant has said.

The ethylene plant would feed two new 650,000 tonne/year polyethylene (PE) lines to be located next to the cracker.

In a news release on Friday, the EPA said that it issued a final permit for the proposed facility in November 2013, which was appealed by environmental groups to the agency’s Environmental Appeals Board.

The board denied review of the petition on Thursday, and the EPA subsequently finalised the permit, the agency said.

The director of one of the environmental groups that had contested the permit application lauded energy efficiency measures in the permit but warned that the plant would simply add to the problem of GHG emissions in the US.

“The permit incorporates energy efficiency measures, like recovery and reuse of waste heat, which should keep emissions from increasing even further," said Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project. "But in total, expansions at oil, gas, and chemical plants are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US today. We need national carbon limits sooner rather than later if Texas and other states want to hang on to their coastlines.”

By Jeremy Pafford