Port Arthur steam cracker now processing shale gas ethane


The Port Arthur steam cracker can now be supplied with ethane produced at the Mont Belvieu, Texas site, through which most U.S. natural gas liquids transit.

To capitalize on the shale gas revolution in the United States, the BASF TOTAL Petrochemicals LLC (BTP) joint venture (40% Total, 60% BASF) revamped the Port Arthur steam cracker in Texas to process ethane, found in abundance in U.S. shale gas.

“Our strategy in the United States consists of consolidating our production base by taking advantage of market trends,” commented Patrick Pouyanné, President of Total Refining & Chemicals. “The Port Arthur steam cracker is one of the biggest in the world, with a capacity of 1 million tons of ethylene per year. 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.”

The Port Arthur steam cracker can now be supplied with ethane produced at the Mont Belvieu, Texas site, through which most U.S. natural gas liquids transit. Since early April, the BTP steam cracker has the capability to produce up to 40% of its ethylene from ethane and another 40% from butane and propane. In addition to this project, BTP has also begun building a tenth ethane cracking furnace, scheduled to come on stream in the second quarter of 2014. The new furnace will improve the steam cracker’s availability and increase its cracking capacity by nearly 15%, making it even more efficient.

“In light of the impact of the shale gas revolution on the global petrochemical industry, Total is also examining a project to build a new ethane steam cracker that would be tied to the original Port Arthur steam cracker to capture maximum synergies while leveraging this cost-advantaged feedstock," added Mr. Pouyanné.

As part of its integrated strategy, Total is earmarking its share of ethylene produced by BTP for its Bayport polyethylene plant and its share of propylene for its La Porte polypropylene plant, the world’s biggest. Both facilities are located in Texas.

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