WPC '12: Shell seeks larger polyethylene presence via Pennsylvania cracker

By Ben DuBose
Online Editor

HOUSTON -- Shell hopes to get back in the global polyethylene (PE) market through its planned petrochemical complex near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the company said on Wednesday.

“We’re not entirely out of [the PE business], but we’re out of it in a reasonable way. We have to get back into it,” said Ben van Beurden, executive vice president of Shell Chemicals. “We’re very clear about that.”

He spoke at the IHS World Petrochemical Conference in Houston.

Earlier this month, Shell unveiled the Pittsburgh site where it will process ethane from the abundant natural gas produced in the nearby Marcellus Shale region.

The accompanying ethylene cracker would be the first built in the US since 2000.

In that announcement, Shell said it was considering PE and monoethylene glycol (MEG) units to help meet rising demand in the North American market.

On Wednesday, van Beurden was even more forward with the company’s strategy.

“You have to ask yourself what would make the most sense,” he said.

“Does it make sense to bring [ethane] down to Gulf coast, convert into product, and send it back up? Or build something in the region? We believe it’s the latter.”

In the big picture, van Beurden said Shell is eyeing a larger global presence in the polyethylene market.

“Look at how petrochemicals have grown over past 20 years,” he said. “It’s doubled in terms of demand. There are plenty of forecasts that say it will double again in next 20 years, and there are a lot of fundamental drivers to make that come true.

“It’s a very significant growth industry that we want to participate in proportionally,” he continued. “We do have plans to invest in other parts of the world.

“PE will have to play a role in that, considering 60% of world’s ethylene production will end up in polyethylene.”

The 2012 World Petrochemical Conference lasts through Thursday at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston. Stay tuned to Hydrocarbon Processing for further coverage.

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