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January U.S. Propylene Contracts Settle at a Rollover While Spot Prices Ease

January 24, 2020

January monthly contract prices for polymer grade propylene (PGP) were settling on January 24 at a rollover from December at 33 cents per pound (an equivalent of 143.6 cents per gallon).

The monthly contract price has been steadily falling since September 2019. The lowest contract price in 2019 was 33 cts/lb, reached in December. Prior to that, monthly contracts were last at 33 cts/lb in June of 2016. 

Monthly contract prices for propylene tend to be slightly higher than spot prices, and this trend continued in January. Spot polymer grade propylene began this month trading in a range of 31-31.5 cts/lb (134.9-137 cts/gal) and hit 28.5 cts/lb (124 cts/gal) on January 23, a low not seen since the end of 2016.

The declines in spot pricing come at a time when supply was largely considered to be balanced. No operating issues have been heard regarding any propylene splitters. Enterprise's propane dehydrogenation unit at Mont Belvieu was flaring after a product gas compressor and ethylene refrigerant compressor shut on Thursday. The unit is one of three in the US and it can produce 1.65 billion lbs/yr of chemical grade or polymer grade propylene.

Polypropylene plant operating rates were in the low 80s percent in late 2019 and demand has not been robust for propylene as a feedstock. However, there are signs of improving demand for polypropylene in early 2020. Falling domestic PP prices have made PP imports less competitive and spurred restocking activity by domestic buyers. The domestic resale spot price for HoPP injection was 44-48 cts/lb railcar delivered on Friday, down 10-11 cts/lb from a year ago.

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--Reporting by Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com and David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com
--Editing by Joe Link   Joe@petrochemwire.com

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Chemical Groups Praise Senate Approval of New North American Trade Agreement

January 16, 2020

The U.S. chemical industry sees economic benefits in the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada that was approved by the Senate today by an 89-10 vote. The U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act, or USMCA, now moves to President Trump for his signature.

The North American nations agreed to the deal more than a year ago but concerns about labor and environmental issues held up its approval.

The U.S. remains in a historic expansion with more than $200 billion in chemical manufacturing investments announced over the past decade. Much of that investment is export-oriented, meaning the industry must be able to capitalize on its competitive position and depends on a U.S. trade policy that opens rather than closes doors to new markets.

Mexico and Canada are the two largest trading partners for the U.S. plastics industry.

The USMCA maintains NAFTA's tariff-free status for the supply chains, which was a top priority for chemical industry groups.

There are a few changes, however, from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which took effect in 1994. USMCA has stricter rules for auto part rules of origin and requires at least 40% of the parts for a car to be produced in plants where workers make at least $16 an hour. Other changes include updating digital trade and copyright rules.

“We all win under this new agreement,” American Chemistry Council (ACC) President and CEO Chris Jahn said in a statement. “Our unanimous support for ratifying USMCA is a testimony to the collaborative, highly integrated North American chemical manufacturing sector that is uniquely positioned to continue to grow and create new jobs under the new North American trade pact.

The U.S. chemical sector has capitalized on duty-free trade under NAFTA ever since its inception, more than tripling U.S. chemicals exports to Canada and Mexico – from $13 billion in 1994, to $44 billion in 2018. Chemical exports are projected to grow to $59 billion by 2025, the ACC said.

“For the U.S. in particular, companies eyeing the U.S. shale gas revolution and chemical production boom should soon have even greater confidence to invest, knowing that they will be able to trade freely with our industry’s largest trading partners in Canada and Mexico,” Jahn said.

In 2018, U.S. chemical manufacturers exported $46 billion, or one-third of all U.S. chemicals exports, to Canada and Mexico. Around 44% of U.S. chemicals exported to Canada and Mexico are to related parties, according to the ACC.

Nearly a quarter of all U.S. chemical imports are from Canada and Mexico. 64% of those imports are from related parties, according to council.

“We’re thrilled at the prospect of Canada’s ratification of CUSMA to further minimize barriers to North American chemicals trade,” said Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) President and CEO, Bob Masterson. “Eliminating tariffs and other barriers to trade has changed the conditions of doing business across borders in North America and encouraged regional investment and economic integration. Producers have become more efficient and more productive because they can benefit from vertical specialization and economies of scale. Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. goods – including chemicals, and goods that require chemicals as inputs – are competitive in the global marketplace because they are products of integrated North American supply chains,” he said.

Canada traded $65.1 billion in chemical products with the U.S. and Mexico in 2018, according to the ACC.

The region is currently experiencing its own renaissance of petrochemical investment.

Current chemical construction in Canada represents some C$10 billion and includes a polyethylene plant and ethane cracker expansion, as well as two separate polypropylene plant complexes each with its own propane dehydrogenation (PDH) units.

-- Heather Doyle  Heather.Doyle@IHSMarkit.com

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Canada Kuwait Petrochemical awards EPC contract for PDH plant

HOUSTON, January 8, 2020 (PCW)--Canada Kuwait Petrochemical Corporation awarded a lump sum EPC contract for its Alberta propane dehydrogenation (PDH) facility and said that the propylene/polypropylene complex is expected to be placed into commercial service by 2H 2023.

Once operational, its listed capacity will be 550,000 mt/yr of propylene, which will be fed from the PDH unit into the site's PP plant.

Previously, the in-service date was projected as mid-2023.

The contract, which was awarded to Heartland Canada Partners, a joint venture of Fluor and Kiewit, will fix approximately 60% of the cost of the PDH/PP facility so far. The contractor selection for the PP part of the complex is ongoing.

Pembina Pipeline Corporation, which together with Petrochemical Industries Company of Kuwait is developing the PDH/PP complex, has revised its proportionate share of the capital cost of the PDH/PP Facility, including the 100 percent directly-owned supporting facilities, to $2.7 billion. Nearly a year ago, Pembina's share was estimated at $2.5 billion.

The complex will be capable of converting about 23,000 b/d of propane into 550,000 mt/yr of PP.

The final investment decision for the PDH/PP complex was announced in February 2019. The facility will be located adjacent to the Redwater Fractionation Complex, just north of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.

– David Barry   david@petrochemwire.com

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October PGP contracts settle lower as inventories rise

HOUSTON, October 31, 2019 (PCW) – October polymer grade propylene (PGP) negotiated contracts have settled at 37.5 cpp, down 1.5 cpp from September. Chemical grade propylene (CGP) contracts also settled down 1.5 cpp at 36 cpp.

The October PGP contract price is the lowest since June, when PGP contracts settled at 36.5 cpp. PGP contract prices have fluctuated in a relatively narrow band of 35.5-40 cpp this year. By comparison, 2018 saw a PGP contract range of 42-61 cpp.

In the spot market, October PGP at the MtB-EPC hub traded Wednesday at 34.5-34.75 cpp for October delivery. It has traded in a range of 33.25-37 cpp this month.

The OPIS PetroChem Wire MTD 45-day weighted average for October PGP stands at 34.548 cpp, down 2.397 cpp from Sep.

US propylene inventories rise

Meanwhile, US nonfuel use propylene inventories climbed for a seventh straight week to a 23-week high of 5.031 million bbl, according to EIA.

pcw 1104

The EIA report for the week ending October 25 showed a 328,000 bbl (7%) inventory build, the largest weekly uptick since February 2019. Current propylene inventories are very close to the 52-week average of 5.021 million barrels.

The recent trend of rising propylene inventories and falling prices has occurred against a backdrop of lower supply but also weaker demand.

Gulf Coast refinery utilization has averaged 87.5% over the past four weeks; the five-year seasonal average utilization is 89.8%. Later in 4Q, Gulf Coast refinery utilization usually ramps into the low to mid-90s on a percentage basis.

Also on the supply side, several recent outages of Gulf Coast crackers and on-purpose propylene plants have pushed production down, although some of these units were understood to be restarting within the past week. Month-to-date maximum Gulf Coast operating rates for steam crackers and PDH plants were estimated at 90% as of October 25, according to OPIS PetroChem Wire.

Downstream, PP demand has been lackluster in recent months, with 3Q operating rates estimated in the mid- to upper 80s percentage. In October, the PP market has been balanced despite at least three PP suppliers carrying out planned maintenance work in October. HoPP raffia/injection exports have been reported at 41-45 cpp railcar FOB Houston, but traders suggested that prices at 40 cpp or lower would be needed to secure large-volume orders going forward.

There have also been reports that the propylene arb to Asia, which had been open late in 3Q, was closed again in October. 

– David Barry,  David@petrochemwire.com

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US PET resin exports, imports down; imports surge from S. Africa, Vietnam

pcw 1023HOUSTON, October 23, 2019 (PCW) -- US exports of PET resin totaled 47,647 metric tons in Jan-Aug 2019, down 7.6% from Jan-Aug 2018, the latest US Commerce Department data show. Malaysia was the second top export destination after Mexico.

US PET resin imports were also lower, at 569,083 mt in the first eight months of 2019, valued at $699.9 million, down 11.6% from the same 2018 period.

Mexico remained the top source of imports in the 2019 period at 139,080 mt, although this was down by 36.7% from Jan-Aug 2018. Imports from South Africa surged to 42,991 mt from 20,428 mt in Jan-Aug 2018; they were also up sharply from Vietnam at 45,796 mt, up from 1,513 mt in Jan-Aug 2018.

Most PET resin, produced by processing hydrocarbons, is used to make single-use plastic bottles, containers and packaging, and other products like strapping PET industrial tape.



-- Xavier A Cronin, xavier@petrochemwire.com

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US ethylene prices jump amid supply speculation; ethane eases

HOUSTON, October 17, 2019 (PCW) -- Spot ethylene prices jumped nearly 20% on Thursday in Texas and Louisiana to the mid-20cts/lb level (an equivalent near 75 cpg) as speculation emerged about tightening prompt supply amid ongoing plant outages and reductions. Spot ethane, meanwhile, stopped its ascent toward the 20 cts/gal mark (roughly 6.75 cts/lb equivalent) and drifted lower.
Against a backdrop of waiting for new ethylene production from Shintech and Indorama and full steam cracking rates from Sasol and the Lotte Chem/Westlake venture, availability has been reduced from ExxonMobil's Baytown site after one of its steam crackers shut related to a co-product tank fire at the end of July. Shell also continues to perform planned work at one of its steam crackers at Norco in Louisiana. Earlier this week, both of Ineos' units at Chocolate Bayou (Texas) experienced operational issues related to a steam supply interruption. 
The cumulative effect of these situations has kept the ethylene market speculating about the state of supply. Spot pricing for October ethylene at the Mont Belvieu-NOVA hub had been drifting lower in recent weeks, from 29 cts/lb (86 cts/gal) at the start of the month to 20 cts/lb (59 cts/gal) this past Monday. After a few days of low activity, ethylene roared back to life on Thursday morning, with Oct MtB-NOVA material trading three times at 24 cts/lb (71.3 cts/gal) and Oct material for delivery elsewhere in Texas trading up to 26 cts/lb (77.25 cpg), while Oct ethylene in the Choctaw (Louisiana) hub traded up to 25 cts/lb (74.25 cpg).
Downstream demand from the plastics market has not been stellar, but it has been consistently steady in the domestic market and has been battling weak demand from international markets. The recent return of Chinese buyers from the weeklong national holiday did not produce a surge of international demand, and market sentiment stayed weak overseas. Spot high density polyethylene prices in the bulk railcar market have dropped this month, but while ethylene shed 45% of its value in the first half of October, HDPE lost just 3%, moving from 33 cts/lb (98 cts/gal equivalent) to 32 cts/lb (96 cts/gal). 

--Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com

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US PE producers react to ethylene, NGLs volatility and issue new price increase notices

HOUSTON, September 25, 2019 (PCW) -- US polyethylene producers have either high hopes to boost margins or strong safeguards to protect against a spike in ethylene prices. Contract PE sellers (who set a single price for a month that is typically communicated in a letter notifying customers of the increase delta) have an active 5 cents per pound (cpp) increase issued for September and many have issued a further increase of 8 cpp for October deliveries. 

At the heart of many of these efforts is the concern over ethylene pricing, as it makes up most of the cost to produce polyethylene. Spot ethylene, however, has been tricky to pin down for those trying to identify a trend.

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Early in September, spot ethylene prices in the Mont Belvieu area (the dominant benchmark price) were in the low 20 cpp zone and even dipped below 20 cpp by Sep 5. However, they steadily rose to 25.25 cpp by mid-month and shot to 27 cpp by Sep 18. However, by the time the PE producer letters began rolling out for October, spot ethylene had changed directions and was drifting down to 25 cpp. This morning, Oct Mont Belvieu ethylene traded multiple times at 24 cpp, its new low for the month.

Ethylene's drivers are fundamentally simple: NGLs pricing and ethylene supply availability. NGLs have been just as unpredictable, following energy markets that often surge on political news and wane on follow-up news.

Mont Belvieu ethane prices started September averaging above 20 cents per gallon (cpg) – price levels not seen since early June – as demand picked up from new and returning cracking capacity. One consultant estimated this capacity was near 1.7 million b/d at present, up 200,000 b/d from August. Yet supplies of ethane are still viewed as more than abundant, and this could lead to a supply/demand tug-of-war going forward. On Wednesday, ethane had backed off to 19-20 cpg from a midmonth average peak at 23.6875 cpg.

Propane and normal butane at Mont Belvieu, meanwhile, appeared more sensitive to the geopolitical moves in petroleum futures. Prices for both spiked on Sep 16 and have since been backtracking, though neither has pulled back to their early month lows. Between Sep 3-16, non-TET propane moved from 39.8125cts/gal to 50.0625cts/gal – including a 7cts one-day surge when news of the Saudi attacks hit – and were last seen around 45cts/gal. Non-TET normal butane peaked Sep 16 at an average 59.875cts/gal from just around 50cts/gal at the start of the month and were last seen around 55cts/gal.

Ethylene supply has not necessarily been tight inasmuch as most plants were operating well and the one storm that has swept through Texas appeared to cause two minor closures for petrochemical plants. The ongoing saga of waiting for new production to start up, however, weighs heavily on the ethylene market. Four new steam crackers have been expected to have started producing many millions of pounds of ethylene each day in the Lake Charles-Plaqumine region of Louisiana: Shintech, Sasol, Indorama and the Lotte-Westlake joint venture. Sasol's plant is running but is not yet at normal rates; the others are expected to start up shortly. As each week goes by without seeing this capacity, however, shifting balances in the Gulf Coast can agitate some to speculate on the state of future supply, which can inspire some testing of support and resistance levels. For Sep and Oct spot ethylene, this has been from the low to upper 20s cpp.

What that means for the polyethylene market in terms of the likelihood of their contract prices increasing remains to be seen. Spot PE has been largely indifferent to the upstream price swings, however, with the benchmark high density blow molding grade PE price staying firmly in the low to mid 30s cpp range and its companion linear low butene film grade PE staying in the low 30s cpp so far this month.

--Julia Giordano, julia@petrochemwire.com
--Xavier Cronin, xavier@petrochemwire.com
--Jessica Marron, jmarron@opisnet.com
--Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com

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Spot petchem prices barely move as markets await impact of Imelda

HOUSTON, September 19, 2019 (PCW)--Spot olefins markets were silent in Texas, with no bids or offers seen at all for prompt material, following the news that ExxonMobil has completed shutdowns of the chemical plants at its Beaumont, Texas, site as Tropical Storm Imelda moves through the area. Spot ethylene has traded higher in recent days, with September reaching 27 cpp. Wednesday afternoon. Spot propylene has been steady this week at 36.5 cpp.
Spot benzene prices were up 1-2 cpg at 254-260 cpg DDP HTC for September and at 256-263 cpg for October delivery. An upcoming turnaround scheduled at ExxonMobil's refinery had limited the benzene market's expectations for product from the site this month; effects of the storm on nearby styrene production at Bayport also muted the effect of the Beaumont shutdown.
ExxonMobil's chemical assets at Beaumont include a world-scale olefins plant which has the capacity to produce 4.932 million pounds of ethylene per day, representing 3.2% of Texas ethylene capacity. The site also has the capacity to produces 1.2 million pounds of polymer-grade propylene per day and has six polyethylene trains with a total capacity of 5.6 million pounds per day.
Flooding was not just a concern for Beaumont -- the markets were keeping an eye on effects to the nearby Port Arthur area, which is home to several major refining and petrochemical sites, including the joint BASF/Total complex, as well as Chevron Phillips and Flint Hills Resources.
In the Houston area, a lightning strike Wednesday evening caused a brief power outage and process upset at Bayport Polymers' 1.1-billion-lb./yr PE facility in Pasadena, Texas. An update on the plant's status was not immediately available Thursday morning.
Process upsets were also reported Wednesday evening at LyondellBasell in La Porte, Texas, and American Acryl in Pasadena. No further details were confirmed.
Resin buyers were alerted to potential trucking delays around Houston due to roadway flooding, and Interstate 10 was closed west of Beaumont due to impassable flood waters, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

--Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com

--Julia Giordano, julia@petrochemwire.com

-- David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com

-- Kevin Wallman, kevin@petrochemwire.com 

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Dow plans more on-purpose propylene with cracker retrofit

HOUSTON, August 20, 2019 (PCW) – Dow Chemical announced today that it will retrofit its LA-3 cracker in Plaquemine, LA with fluidized catalytic dehydrogenation (FCDh) technology to produce more than 100,000 mt/yr of additional on-purpose propylene.

The project, which is expected online by the end of 2021, will not reduce the unit’s current ethylene production capacity of 1.066 million mt/yr. The LA-3 cracker underwent a 250,000 mt/yr expansion in 2016, which also increased its ethane cracking capability to 80%.

Dow said the retrofit will enhance asset utilization and help meet growing demand for its differentiated polyolefins products, citing consumer, infrastructure and packaging end-markets.

Propylene historically has been supplied as a byproduct of refineries or steam crackers, but the substitution of low-cost ethane for heavier cracker feedstocks has reduced the output of cracker byproducts, including propylene, creating the need for other sources of propylene to balance the market.

Because of the reduced byproduct propylene supply, the US Gulf propylene market in recent years has suffered from volatility and high prices, with OPIS PetroChem Wire’s monthly spot average for PGP topping out at a 45 cpp premium to ethylene in June 2018 and spot averages swinging as much as 15 cpp from one month to the next last year.

New propane dehydrogenation plants started up by Dow and Enterprise in the past few years have helped to smooth out the volatility and bring US Gulf propylene prices to more competitive levels in the global market.

Dow claims that its FCDh technology can reduce capital expense by up to 25% and lower energy usage by up to 20 percent compared to conventional PDH technologies. It recently licensed the technology to PetroLogistics II for a new stand-alone PDH facility that is planned for the Gulf Coast.

– David Barry,  David@petrochemwire.com

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Ethane Ships' LPG Voyages Highlight Cutthroat Feedstock Competition

August 6, 2019

Two multi-gas carriers that typically conduct "milk runs" carrying American ethane into charterer Ineos' European steam crackers have completed voyages to the Continent carrying propane and butane.

The dual cargo switch underscores two interlinked situations -- an over-supplied U.S. ethane market beset with low prices, and competition to ethane posed by compellingly priced LPG (i.e., propane and butane) for use as feedstock in steam crackers.

IHS Markit Waterborne data showed the multi-gas carrier JS Ineos Independence departing Enterprise Products Partners' export docks on the Houston Ship Channel on July 22 with a 149,040-bbl cargo of propane, and heading to Europe.

Sistership JS Ineos Ingenuity departed the Marcus Hook, Pa., export docks with a 161,400-bbl cargo of butane on July 25, also heading to Europe.

According to IHS Markit vessel-tracking data, the JS Ineos Independence appeared to be discharging its cargo in Antwerp, Belgium, at presstime. The JS Ineos Ingenuity had departed the Europoort terminal in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and was signaling Le Havre in France as its next destination.

The JS Ineos Independence cargo appears headed into tankage operated by SHV Energy, the anchor leaseholder for storage in Antwerp which imports for retail usage. The JS Ineos Ingenuity's discharge plans were less clear, though there are petrochemical feedstock outlets operated by LyondellBasell in Rotterdam and Total in Le Havre.

Both ships belong to the custom-built "Dragon Class" series of vessels, meant to fulfil Ineos' long-term U.S. ethane procurement contracts for crackers in Rafnes, Norway and Grangemouth, Scotland. Both vessels typically source ethane cargoes from Marcus Hook as well as Enterprise's ethane docks at Morgan's Point on the Houston Ship Channel.

However, since the ships' specifications allow them to carry a variety of natural gas liquid (NGL) cargoes, Ineos has the flexibility to deploy or freelance them into alternate trades if market conditions warrant such a switch.

A global macroeconomic snapshot of the prevailing economics for NGLs and olefins provide the backdrop to the dual cargo switch.

On the ethane front stateside, the OPIS-assessed price for Mont Belvieu purity ethane has slumped to just more than a dime a gallon from the end-2018 levels of 30cts/gal. This is attributed in part to surging ethane supplies that have swollen ethane inventories to long-term highs, along with weak natural gas prices that are incentivizing high ethane extraction in the field.

However, the lower ethane price has not translated into an advantage for that product as a feedstock for ethylene steam crackers. This, in turn, is because ethylene prices too are struggling and ethylene inventories also are high. This has seen existing crackers on the Gulf Coast moderate their operations while new crackers are coming on line only in slow motion, which means the hoped-for surge in demand for ethane has not yet materialized.

However, there is another major factor that is driving ethane's current weakness: competition from propane and butane as a feedstock.

Propane and butane inventories in the U.S., too, are above cyclical highs, and propane and butane prices, too, are struggling. The OPIS-assessed prices for Mont Belvieu non-TET (i.e., product stored in Enterprise Products Partners caverns) propane and butane yesterday were 44.125cts/gal and 50.1875cts/gal, compared with the end-2018 prices of 62.9375cts/gal and 75.375cts/gal, respectively.

Against this backdrop, propane and butane have established themselves as formidable feedstock competitors. Cracker economics in Europe show the same pattern, pitting ethane against an increasingly assertive slate of rivals.

In the U.S., the OPIS NGL Forwards Report yesterday noted that on cash cost basis relative to spot ethylene pricing, ethane, propane and butane all were profitable relative to U.S. spot ethylene, which was valued Tuesday morning at 18.5cts/lb. (roughly 55cts/gal) at Mont Belvieu and 24cts/lb. (71.25cts/gal) at Choctaw, La.

Most of the steam crackers in North America are "light" in terms of their feed slates, with most furnaces designated for ethane as opposed to heavier feedstocks such as propane or butane. Sources familiar with the steam cracking scene on the Gulf Coast have noted that at high severity cracking, butane in fact is the most preferred feedstock, generating a spot net margin of around 15cts/lb., versus around 11cts/lb. for ethane and 6cts/lb. for naphtha.

This has boosted petrochemical demand for butane, as cracker operators look to consume as much of it as their furnaces will allow. The measurable shift in switching from ethane to butane for a steam cracker is that the amount of ethylene is minimized. Cracking ethane can yield 75-80% ethylene; cracking propane or butane yields closer to 40% ethylene. Conversely, the opposite occurs with co-products, as cracking ethane yields less than 20% propylene and cracking propane or butane yields nearly 50% propylene.

However, while ethylene is abundant, propylene is fundamentally tight in the U.S. because there is much less of it. This is reflected in the current price of polymer-grade propylene of around 35cts/lb. ($1.50/gal). This offers more favorable bottom-line economics with the use of feedstocks other than ethane.

The substitution of ethane tankers to haul LPG instead has materialized on this canvas.

--Dermot McGowan, dmcgowan@opisnet.com

--Rajesh Joshi, rjoshi@opisnet.com

--Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com

--Julia Giordano, julia@petrochemwire.com

The OPIS Europe LPG & Naphtha Report is the publication LPG professionals rely on to benchmark naphtha, propane and butane prices in northwest Europe and the Mediterranean. It provides 13-month forwards propane pricing - more than any other LPG publication.  Start a free 21-day trial today! 

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US polyethylene exports up 50% in 2019 YTD

HOUSTON, August 6, 2019 (PCW) -- US polyethylene exports during 1H 2019 surged to 4.34 million mt, up by 1.44 million mt (50%) from a year earlier, according to new Commerce Department data. That represents approximately 16,000 hopper cars worth of additional resin.

The markets attracting the most new volume have been Belgium, Vietnam and Malaysia, followed by Singapore, Brazil and Turkey.

China was one of the few countries to receive less PE volume in 1H 2019 than a year earlier. The US shipped 392,958 mt of PE to China/Hong Kong in 1H 2019, down 49,197 mt (-11%) from 1H 2018. Despite the ongoing trade war, China (including Hong Kong) was the third largest destination for US PE exports after Mexico and Belgium. 


--David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com

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ExxonMobil Baytown Olefins Plant fire makes for a busy day for ethylene trading

HOUSTON, August 1, 2019 (PCW) -- On Wednesday, July 31 at 11 am US Central Time, an explosion occurred at the ExxonMobil Baytown Olefins Plant (BOP) yesterday due to a loss of containment on the propylene recovery unit that resulted in a fire that burned a light hydrocarbon mixture of propane and propylene. A company spokesperson reported that the impacted unit has been shut down and stabilized and the rest of the complex is operating at reduced rates.

There are three olefins units at Baytown, known as BOP (Baytown Olefins Plant), BOP-X and BOP 2X. BOP has an ethylene capacity of 2.55 billion pounds per year (3.3% of US capacity), BOP-X has an ethylene capacity of 2.3 billion pounds per year and BOP-2X (a new plant that came online in 2018) has an ethylene capacity of 3.3 billion pounds per year. The Baytown site has three propylene units designed to upgrade propylene co-product from the steam crackers. They each have a polymer grade propylene capacity of 700 million pounds per year. The affected olefins unit is a flex-cracker, meaning that it cracks mostly ethane but it has furnaces that can accept heavier NGLs. The other olefins units are ethane crackers.

Spot ethylene prices did not immediately react to the incident Wednesday afternoon; values rose from 16.25 cpp (48.5 cpg equivalent) for Aug to end the day around 17.25 cpp (51.5 cpg). On Thursday morning, however, a flurry of spot activity saw 20 new ethylene deals get done within a two-hour period , and Aug prices popped to 19.5 cpp (57.5 cpg).

-Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com 

-Julia Giordano, julia@petrochemwire.com 

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Although the indicent damaged a propylene unit at the site, the spot propylene market did not appear to react at all. Aug po

US nonfuel use propylene inventories drop to eight-month low: EIA

HOUSTON, July 24, 2019 (PCW) -- US nonfuel use propylene inventories fell by 239,000 barrels to 4.085 million barrels last week, the lowest level since November 2018, the Energy Information Administration said today.

Propylene inventories have dropped four weeks in a row, and are down in nine of the past 12 weeks.

While still higher by 50% versus a year ago, propylene inventories are 18% lower over the past four weeks and are more than 10% below their 52-week average.

Meanwhile, US Gulf refinery utilization was down 4.3 percentage points at 91.1% last week, which is below the five-year average for this time of year. 


--David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com

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ExxonMobil Beaumont startup leads next wave of new Gulf Coast polyethylene plants

HOUSTON, July 23, 2019 (PCW) -- ExxonMobil notified customers Monday that it has begun production on a new 650,000 mt/yr (1.43 billion lbs/yr) PE unit in Beaumont, TX, the first of several new PE plants scheduled to start up along the US Gulf Coast during 2H 2019.

The new LLDPE/mLLDPE unit is similar to two units already in service in Mont Belvieu, TX since 2017; it will increase the Beaumont site’s capacity by 65% to 1.7 million mt/yr, with access to rail and packaging facilities.

A letter to customers said the expansion will help meet strong global demand growth for products used in liquid and food packaging, construction liners and agricultural films.

Prior to commercial sale of the new products, extensive testing will be performed to confirm functional equivalence in processing and performance, the company said.

Three other PE manufacturers have startups scheduled for 2H 2019:

  • Formosa in Point Comfort, TX (400,000 mt/yr LDPE and 400,000 mt/yr HDPE/LLDPE)
  • LyondellBasell in La Porte, TX (500,000 mt/yr HDPE)
  • Sasol in Lake Charles, LA (420,000 mt/yr LDPE)

Sasol and Formosa also have olefins plants under construction and scheduled to start up later this year in support of their new resin capacity.

--David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com

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Tropical Storm Barry closes in on Louisiana: Update 1

Tropical Storm Barry was moving at 5 mph with 40 mph winds towards New Orleans at 1 pm Central Time on Thursday (July 11). The NOAA's National Hurricane Center predicted that the center of Barry will be near the central or southeastern coast of Louisiana Friday night or Saturday. 

As of Thursday afternoon, the storm's path formed a wide cone that includes Louisiana's Norco, Plaquemine, Baton Rouge, and Lake Charles areas. The cone extends into east Texas, which includes the Port Arthur/Beaumont area and also north up to Memphis. 

CLICK HERE to view a map of the storm's path and chemical production sites in the region. 

Landfall is estimated to be in Louisiana late Friday or early Saturday. Tropical Storm warnings and Hurricane watches are in effect for much of the Louisiana coast. A State of Emergency for all of Louisiana was delared by the state's governor on Wednesday (July 10). 

The slow-moving nature of the storm has created expectations of sustained heavy rains and likely flooding in many areas. 

New Orleans-area railyards have issued embargoes for all railcar traffic. The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad will conclude operations at the close of business Thursday.

The Port of New Orleans container and breakbulk terminals ceased operations on Thursday. 

Phillip 66 was shutting its Alliance refinery at Belle Chasse, Louisiana in preparation for the storm's arrival. 
Petrochemical & plastic production sites in the projected path of the storm include: 



Americas Styrenics at St James
BASF at Geismar
Deltech at Baton Rouge
Dow at St Charles (Taft)
Dow at Plaquemine
Equistar at Lake Charles
ExxonMobil at Baton Rouge
Formosa at Baton Rouge
Indorama at Lake Charles
Lone Star at Geismar
Lion Copolymer at Geismar
Marathon at Garyville
Occidental at Geismar
NOVA at Geismar
Sasol at Lake Charles
Shell at Norco
Shintech at Plaquemine
Total at Carville
Westlake at Lake Charles
Westlake at Plaquemine


BASF at Port Arthur
Chevron Phillip at Orange
Chevron Phillips at Port Arthur
DowDuPont at Orange
ExxonMobil at Beaumont
Flint Hills at Port Arthur    
Honeywell at Orange
Huntsman at Port Neches
BASF's olefins production at Port Arthur had been shut in early April for maintenance; it remained shut.    

The sites listed above represent approximately:
    -- 72 million pounds of ethylene output per day (36% of Gulf Coast capacity)
   --  17 million pounds of PGP output per day (20%)
   --  6.5 million pounds of CGP output per day (19%)

Refineries with propylene production include sites at Chalmette, Norco, Meraux, Convent, Port Allen, Belle Chasse, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, Louisiana and Beaumont and Port Arthur in Texas. Output of RGP mix at the Louisiana sites totals 120,000 barrels per day; RGP mix output from the Texas sites totals approximately 50,000 b/d. 

-- Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com 

Copyright, Oil Price Information Service 

Storm targets more than 30% of Gulf Coast ethylene production

HOUSTON, July 10, 2019 (PCW)--A tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico may develop into a hurricane by the weekend, targeting an area of Louisiana rich with petrochemical plants, according to a forecast by the National Hurricane Center.

If storms with similar projected paths are an indicator or the plants at risk, more than 35% of the Gulf's ethylene capacity and 20% of finished grade propylene capacity could be affected. 

A hurricane watch has been issued from the mouth of the Mississippi River westward to Cameron, Louisiana, according to the Hurricane Center's latest advisory. A tropical storm watch has been issued from north of the mouth of the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Pearl River.

Steam crackers in eastern and central Louisiana include Dow at St Charles (Taft), Shell at Norco, NOVA at Geismar, Dow at Plaquemine, and ExxonMobil at Baton Rouge. These units represent a combined ethylene capacity of slightly more than 36 million pounds per day (13 billion lbs/yr), or 18% of Gulf Coast output. Polymer grade propylene production in this area represents a total of nearly 9 million pounds per day (3.2 billion lbs/yr), or 10% of Gulf Coast output. Chemical grade propylene production in this area represents slightly more than 6 million pounds per day (2.3 billion lbs/yr), or 7% of Gulf Coast output. Refinery grade propylene production in this area is concentrated at the refineries at Chalmette, Meraux, Norco, St Charles, Garyville, Convent and Baton Rouge, with a total output of nearly 100,000 b/d of RGP mix.

West of those in Lake Charles are Westlake's crackers and Sasol's cracker. These units represent a combined ethylene capacity of slightly more than 11 million pounds per day (4 billion lbs/yr), or 6% of Gulf Coast output. There is very little CGP or PGP production in Lake Charles, and the area represents just 1% of Gulf Coast output. Refinery grade propylene production in this area is about 20,000 b/d.

Across the Texas border are Flint Hills Resources, Chevron Phillips and BASF at Port Arthur, ExxonMobil at Beaumont and DowDuPont at Orange. These units represent a combined ethylene capacity of nearly 25 million pounds per day (9 billion lbs/yr), or 12% of Gulf Coast output. Currently, BASF's unit is shut as it began a scheduled turnaround in early April; it is past its previously expected restart timeframe of early June. Polymer grade propylene production in this area represents a total of 8.5 million pounds per day (3 billion lbs/yr), or 10% of Gulf Coast output. Chemical grade propylene production in this area represents nearly 3.5 million pounds per day (1.25 billion lbs/yr), or 4% of Gulf Coast output. Refinery grade propylene production in this area is concentrated at the refineries at in the Port Arthur and Beaumont areas totals a little more than 50,000 b/d of RGP mix.

On the natural gas liquid (NGL) front, the export main nerve center of the Houston Ship Channel appeared to lie outside the storm’s direct path as of Wednesday afternoon, though the LPG export hub in Nederland, along the Sabine Neches Waterway some 100 miles east of Houston, could see some impact. 

--Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com
--Julia Giordano, julia@petrochemwire.com
--Rajesh Joshi, rjoshi@opisnet.com

Copyright, Oil Price Information Service 

Chevron Phillips, Qatar Petroleum to build ethane cracker, HDPE units in Qatar

HOUSTON, June 24, 2019 (PCW) – A new 1.9 million mt/year ethane cracker and two HDPE derivative units with combined capacity of 1.68 million mt/year are planned for Qatar, Chevron Phillips Chemical announced today.
CPC said that it had partnered with Qatar Petroleum to build the petrochemical complex in Ras Laffan Industrial City. QP will have 70% ownership, CPC 30%. Planned startup is late 2025.
CPC said it is licensing its MarTECH loop slurry process for producing HDPE at the plant and that it would also provide project management, engineering and construction services.

-- Xavier A Cronin, xavier@petrochemwire.com 

Copyright, Oil Price Information Service 

US polyethylene spot prices hit 10-year lows

HOUSTON, June 17, 2019 (PCW) -- US polyethylene (PE) spot prices fell to their lowest levels since January 2009 last week in reaction to over-capacity and falling feedstock costs.

HDPE blow mold in the Houston railcar market closed last Friday at 36.5 cpp, according to OPIS PetroChem Wire data. LLDPE butene film has also hit 10-year lows this month, closing last Friday at 36 cpp railcar FOB Houston.
Prices were last at these levels during a stretch from November 2008 to January 2009, when the US economy was in the Great Recession and NYMEX crude oil futures were trading in the $30s/bbl.

However, while the 4Q 2008-1Q 2009 PE market was driven by weak demand and falling feedstock costs, the industry today faces a new challenge from aggressive capacity expansion that has its roots in the shale gas boom earlier this decade.

According to preliminary figures from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), US and Canada PE production for January-May 2019 totaled 20.3 billion pounds, up 7% from the same period in 2018 and up 18% from 2017.
In addition, US PE producers are scheduled to bring online five new units during 2H 2019, representing 2.37 million mt/yr (5.22 billion lbs/yr) of new capacity, or a 10% expansion of existing US and Canada capacity.

All that additional output is going into the export market, because domestic sales through the first five months of 2019 are flat from 2017.

In the past month, there have been new signs that resin consumption in China is slowing down, including a sharp drop in polyolefin imports for April. This is blamed partly on US/China trade tensions.

Market sentiment is also depressed in Southeast Asia, which along with Europe is one of the fastest-growing markets for North American PE exports.

As PE buyers in other regions see ample offers and falling prices, the tendency is to put off orders for as long as possible to hedge against further downside price risk.

If overseas buyers remain in wait-and-see mode, it will be difficult for North American manufacturers to meet their end-of-quarter inventory targets in June without further discounts for export business.

Bids are already being discussed in the low 30s cpp railcar FOB Houston, but suppliers have so far shown no inclination to accept those prices. 

pcw 0617

-- David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com  

Copyright, Oil Price Information Service 

Propylene inventories drop for fifth week


HOUSTON, June 12, 2019 (OPIS PCW)--US nonfuel use propylene inventories trickled lower by 15,000 bbls (-0.3%) last week to 4.869 million bbls, the EIA said today. It was the fifth consecutive inventory draw, and propylene stocks have fallen in ten of the past 12 weeks. Propylene inventories are now only 539,000 bbls (12.5%) higher than their 52-week average of 4.33 million bbls. Meanwhile, US Gulf refinery utilization was off 0.2 percentage point at 94.2%, which is above the 5-year average for this time of year. 

pcw 061319

-- David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com  

Copyright, Oil Price Information Service 

US Spot Ethylene Hits New Low as Bearish Fundamentals Converge

June 4, 2019

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U.S. spot ethylene traded down to new lows on Monday, with a deal in Mont Belvieu at 11.75cts/lb. and Louisiana ethylene trading down to 12.125cts/lb. in the Choctaw hub.

These prices are the lowest recorded by OPIS PetroChem Wire; this data history dates back to July 2007.

The lows are not entirely surprising, as spot ethylene has steadily been trading down from 18cts/lb. at the start of the year. Driving the trend were the classic fundamentals of any bear market: increasing supply, decreasing demand and falling upstream prices.

As more ethylene and downstream capacity comes online, more power comes into the consumer side, which naturally leads to lower pricing. A few other factors have added to the bearish pall hanging over ethylene in recent months:

  • Ebbing downstream export demand. The U.S.-China trade situation has resulted in fewer exports of finished goods to the U.S. from China, and by extension, lower demand in China for U.S. polyethylene resin. While polyethylene producers report that domestic demand has been decent, 2.37 million mt/yr (5.22 million lbs./yr) of new capacity is scheduled to start up in 2H 2019. Export requests have slowed, and prices are falling worldwide. Facing the new supply hitting the market and holding onto material that was earmarked for export has created a nervous atmosphere in the plastics markets.
  • Domestic demand from construction stemmed by weather. Heavy rains, frequent storms and flooding have jammed up construction projects throughout the U.S. during its busiest season. Plastic pipe markets (PVC and polyethylene) in particular have been hit the hardest, as wet soil results in delays in not just construction activity but also in agricultural planting schedules. Pipe manufacturers report slowdowns in the municipal, conduit and irrigation pipe demand.
  • Slower demand from flooring, window, door, siding and decking sectors. Producers of these products report that changes in U.S. income tax returns have resulted in a drop of home improvement projects, and a need for their products during 2Q when most citizens typically receive (and spend) their tax returns.
  • Low feedstocks pricing. May was a brutal month for heavier NGLs, as propane slipped below 50cts/gal and butane dropped below 60cts/gal. Ethane has managed to stay above 20cts/gal. Ethylene production costs based on ethane as a feedstock were slightly above break-even levels (relative to spot ethylene) and were under water using propane or butane.

Propylene prices were also falling Monday, but were still significantly higher than ethylene and they remained attractive co-product markets. Polymer-grade propylene was offered down to 34.25cts/lb., 2cts/lb. below where it traded on Friday, but bids have not come above 33cts/lb. With propane in the mid-to-upper 40s cents per gallon range, ethylene at 11.75cts/lb. and refinery-grade propylene at 24cts/lb., PGP margins were relatively healthy using any production method (PDH, metathesis, splitting).

Butadiene pricing was also relatively strong, with June contracts set at 46cts/lb.

– Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com  

Copyright, Oil Price Information Service