Global petrochemicals growth shifts from Middle East to Gulf Coast

April 12, 2018

For the first decade of this century, U.S. petrochemical producers, such as LyondellBasell of Houston and Chevron Phillips Chemical of The Woodlands, flocked to the Middle East, spending years developing partnerships and building massive facilities to tap cheap natural gas feedstocks to make plastics and other materials.

But now, the U.S. Gulf Coast has become the locus of global petrochemical growth, outpacing the Middle East in a shift that’s only expected to accelerate as North American shale producers siphon more natural gas from vast reserves in West Texas and elsewhere. Even Saudi Arabian companies, including the government-owned Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and Saudi Aramco, are making the shift, with plans to invest billions of dollars to expand chemical operations here and develop new partnerships with Houston and other U.S. firms.

The migration of petrochemicals manufacturing is more evidence that the Gulf Coast is becoming an energy hub rivaling the Middle East, which for a half century has played an outsized role in the global economy and geopolitics. It shows that the so-called shale revolution pioneered by Houston and Texas producers is continuing to reshape global markets, transform trading relations and lift the region’s economy, which so far has attracted more than $60 billion in petrochemical investments - an influx of capital, according to the Greater Houston Partnership, that will support tens of thousands of jobs for years to come.

The shift from the Middle East to the Gulf Coast is driven by two simple facts: Supplies of natural gas liquids such as ethane, a feedstock for petrochemicals and plastics, are dwindling to the point of shortage in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, but growing rapidly here as drilling in the Permian Basin in West Texas and other shale plays floods the market with cheap, abundant raw materials for chemicals. U.S .ethane production is projected to increase nearly 60 percent to 2 million barrels a day by 2021, up from 1.26 million barrels a day in 2016, according to the research firm IHS Markit...

Read entire aticle at Houston Chronicle. 


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