Whoa! That’s A Lot Of Ethane

A new report from BENTEK Energy and Turner, Mason & Co. says that because of shale, we should expect a 40% increase in natural gas liquids production in five years. The increase amounts to 950,000 barrels per day of new natural gas liquids by 2016. That is an extraordinary amount of new feedstocks for the chemical industry. I ran my own estimates of how much ethylene production all these NGLs can support. I assumed 75% ethane content in the NGLs. I came up with 11 million metric tons of ethylene per year. These NGLs would also yield about 3.7 million metric tons of propylene (assuming propane from the NGLs is dehydrogenated) and other stuff. If the report, and the Chemical Notebook’s estimates, are correct, or nearly correct, then all the announcements we’ve been hearing about new ethylene capacity aren't nearly tapping out shale’s potential for petrochemicals. John Stekla, CMAI’s director of ethylene, gave a recent presentation where he forecast about 6 million metric tons of new ethylene capacity by 2016. (see slide 29). If not feedstocks, there is a factor that would limit the amount of new ethylene capacity that can be built. That is markets. Can the world really swallow more than 11 million metric tons of polyethylene, vinyl chloride monomer, ethylene oxide, and other derivatives from the U.S.? The world ethylene market today, Stekla points out, is around 120 million metric tons. My own thoughts are that we probably will see more capacity announcements in the U.S., though not to the tune of another 5 million metric tons.

Author: Alex Tullo

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  1. And all that ethane will lead to LNG ships trying to qualify for America’s Cup! Don’t believe me? Read about it here.