Total mulls new ethane steam cracker in Texas

By Ben DuBose
Online Editor

Total is considering a project to build a new ethane steam cracker in Port Arthur, Texas, to capitalize on cheap, shale gas-derived feedstocks.

The France-based company made the announcement Thursday in conjunction with the startup of its revamped cracker in Port Arthur, which it operates as part of a venture with BASF.

The potential new cracker "would be tied to the original Port Arthur steam cracker to capture maximum synergies while leveraging cost-advantaged feedstock," said Patrick Pouyanné, president of Total's refining and chemicals business.

"Our strategy in the United States consists of consolidating our production base by taking advantage of market trends," he said.

The existing cracker is a 40/60 joint venture between Total and BASF.

“The Port Arthur steam cracker is one of the biggest in the world, with a capacity of 1 million tons of ethylene per year," said Pouyanné. It was commissioned in 2001 to process naphtha, distilled from petroleum. In response to petroleum product price hike and the emergence of abundant gas resources, we adapted the steam cracker to give it flexibility and maintain its competitiveness.

"It can now use as a feedstock ethane, which costs around $30 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) --  versus around $100/boe for naphtha -- and liquefied petroleum gases such as butane and propane, which are also cheaper," he added.

The Port Arthur steam cracker will be supplied with ethane produced in Mont Belvieu, Texas, through which most US natural gas liquids (NGLs) transit.

Since early April, the existing Port Arthur cracker has had the capability to produce up to 40% of its ethylene from ethane and another 40% from butane and propane.

In addition to that project, Total and BASF said they have also begun building a 10th ethane cracking furance, scheduled to come onstream in the second quarter of 2014.

The new furnace will improve the steam cracker's availiability and efficiency, raising its cracking capacity by nearly 15%.

Total noted that it is earmarking its share of ethylene produced in Port Arthur for its Bayport polyethylene plant and its share of propylene for its La Porte polypropylene plant, the world’s biggest. Both facilities are also located in Texas.

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