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Posts Tagged → IHS

Dow To Europe: Drop Dead!

I don’t want it to seem like I am picking on Dow this week.

This was the first day of IHS’s World Petrochemical Conference in Houston. This is my 15th annual conference. So far, this conference is better than average. The place is packed with more than 1,300 people.

Dow executive vice president Jim Fitterling gave an address on the beneficial economic effects of shale. We have been hearing a lot of this kind of thing in recent years. However, Fitterling went way beyond the usual touting of big numbers related to shale petrochemical investment. He said that shale will help lead to a renaissance in American manufacturing in general and is even stimulating greater R&D spending in the U.S. as manufacturers invest in technological research to support their operations. He pointed to Dow’s own planned R&D facility in Lake Jackson, Texas, near its Freeport operations, as an example. Very exciting stuff and very positive.

About that headline. He also took the opportunity to complain about all the liquified natural gas export capacity being planned in the U.S. So called “unfettered” exports would drive up natural gas prices and ruin everything for everybody, companies like Dow say. “No it won’t,” oil companies usually retort.

Now if you have been following this issue, you might have heard the suggestion that U.S. exports of natural gas to Europe would loosen the energy stranglehold Vladimir Putin has on Europe. “Don’t even go there,” Fitterling said. No, he didn’t say that. Actually he said this:

Now we are pointing to the Ukraine and arguing that we must fast track LNG exports to help our allies in Europe. Even our own energy secretary says that’s a weak argument, especially given the long lead time and financing to build these terminals. And let’s not forget, Europe has the resources and the capability to provide for its own energy [consumption]. Just because they have rejected nuclear energy and horizontal drilling, and left themselves at the mercy of others, shouldn’t create an obligation for us to bail them out by shipping our advantage to them.

If Europe really wants to be energy competitive and energy secure, it cannot walk away from nuclear and they must embrace horizontal drilling and exploration. The same policies that made America competitive are available to Europe today.

The real question we should ask is a simple one: what is our foreign policy, especially when it comes to our valuable energy resources? Shouldn’t we know that with some certainty before we just launch ahead blindly?

I heard at least one person attempt to start a round of applause while he was still talking. He rocked the house at the chemical conference to the extent that the house at a chemical conference can be rocked. And I am willing to bet that more than a few European chemical executives, who aren’t slow themselves to gripe about Europe’s high energy costs, agreed.


America’s Energy Balances

A couple of weeks ago I attended a charming annual gathering in Houston: Intellichem’s Latin American Petrochemical Networking Meeting at the Westin Galleria Hotel. There were a few good presentations at the event. One that particularly caught my attention was that of Alfred Luaces, an analyst with Purvin & Gertz, which was recently acquired by IHS.

Here are a few takeaways from the presentation:

1) U.S. natural gas liquids production has risen by 15% since 2008, an increase of 270,000 barrels per day. Judging from the graph Luaces put up, production will increase another 400,000 to 500,000 BPD by 2015. Ethane will grow more than other NGL components like propane.

2) The amount of oil extracted from shale in the U.S. will hit 1 million BPD in by 2015 and 2 million BPD by 2020. (According to the EIA, today’s production, on a reasonably comparable basis that includes condensate and stuff, is about 8 million BPD).

3) Canadian crude production will increase by 700,000 BDP in Western Canada, hitting 3 million BPD by 2015. Here Luaces made a point that is consequential to the XL Pipeline. “We think this will be processed on the Gulf Coast eventually,” he noted. But in the meantime, it will be processed in Midwestern refineries until the capacity of those facilities fill up. This would back out imports from Columbia and Mexico. Much of THAT oil will just go to China. (The XL pipeline issue seems more nuanced than some make it out to be.)

4) The impact of the Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium—according to a chart—will be about 400,000 BPD this year.

5) Since 2009, 2 million barrels of crude refining capacity has been shut down in North America and the Caribbean, mostly in the Northeast. Another 700,000 in closures may happen this year, the biggest being Sunoco’s Philadelphia refinery.

6) The U.S. is exporting more than 500 million BPD of gasoline, 325,000 BPD of that is to Mexico. The U.S. exported about 200,000 barrels in 2009. (Crack spreads, the margin between oil and refined products, have also been rising.)

7) The U.S. has become a net exporter of LPG (propane). Enterprise, Targa, Conoco/Phillips, and Vitol are planning export terminals or expanding terminals. (This seems to suggest that there may be some propane dehydrogenation opportunities out there.)

Petrochemicals, Front And Center

I took my usual seat at IHS’s World Petrochemical Conference at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston today, front and center, as I have for 12 previous annual conferences run by CMAI. “The world is right when you’re sitting in the front row,” Mark Eramo, vice president of chemical industry research and analysis, said as he passed. He has given the big ethylene talk each year that I have attended the conference.

IHS purchased CMAI since the last conference. I was worried that IHS might mess with a good thing. The conferences have been a bigger and bigger draw year after year. IHS made some changes, but they were for the better. Instead of a keynote by an august petrochemical executive, there was a panel featuring five of them.

That forum gave me the impression that petrochemical executives may be exuberant about the prospects of feedstocks from shale, but they are also realistic. Since the last conference, five companies—ChevronPhillips Chemical, Dow Chemical, Shell Chemicals, Sasol, and Formosa have announced new U.S. ethylene crackers. “Not all crackers that have been announced may be built, certainly not in the announced timeframe,” noted Ben van Beurden of Shell Chemicals.

Jim Gallogly, CEO of LyondellBasell, made a similar point. “It’s likely you won’t see all the crackers advanced,” he said. Lyondell, for its part, is focused on expansions of existing U.S. facilities, to the tune of half a new cracker’s worth of output.

Also, Gallogly mentioned that his company would be interested in a “condo” cracker, perhaps at an existing facility. As I understand the concept, this would be a cracker that would have two or more partners, each with a defined offtake. I remember Dan Smith, a Gallogly predecessor, talking about this concept about a decade ago, just when the Middle East and Asia started getting all the petrochemical investment. If I had to guess how this might play out today, I would think it would be an project involving Lyondell, a partner with access to feedstocks, and maybe a partner trying to back-integrate an ethylene derivative such as ethylene oxide, alpha olefins, or vinyl chloride monomer.

Curiously, in the Q&A, van Beurden kept on getting asked why Shell announced a cracker and Gallogly kept on getting asked why LyondellBasell hasn’t announced a cracker. In fact, one attendee brought up the exact same two problems I noted with Shell project—that Shell no longer makes polyethylene and that Monaca, Pa., is relatively isolated from the rest of the petrochemical world. Van Beurden said there is as a big advantage being close to the converters—customers would enjoy quicker delivery and less working capital tied up in inventory. He also said there was an infrastructure solution to the isolation problem.

As far as Eramo’s talk goes, while here in the U.S. the profits have been enormous, the global industry is actually beginning to climb out of a cyclical supply-side trough. Demand for ethylene is 127 million metric tons globally, he noted, and growing at a 4.3% annual clip. It is forecast to reach 157 million tons by 2016, at which time the industry will likely see operating rates at around 90%, when the industry should see peak profitability.