HOUSTON (Dow Jones)
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) said Thursday that it is mulling a multi-billion-dollar expansion at its petrochemical facility near Houston.
The project would involve building a new ethane cracker and other facilities to Exxon Mobil's huge Baytown refining and petrochemical complex, and would enable the company to "capitalize on abundant supplies of American natural gas," a spokeswoman said in an email. Start-up would be scheduled for 2016.
Exxon has filed permit applications with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and expects the approval process to last about a year. The company said it would make a financial decision on whether to build the facilities after the federal and state governments approve it.
The planned facilities would process up to 1.5 million tons of chemicals per year and provide feedstock for a nearby polyethylene plant, the company said. Polyethelene is a premium chemical in high demand worldwide, it said.
"ExxonMobil Chemical estimates exports [of chemicals] could increase significantly as a result of the expansion," and the investment reflects Exxon's "continued confidence in the natural gas-driven revitalization of the U.S. chemical industry," the company said.
The move is the latest by a major energy and petrochemical company to profit from booming natural gas production in the U.S., which has rejuvenated the chemical manufacturing sector and fostered exports. Companies such as Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) have also recently undertaken petrochemical projects made profitable by low natural gas prices.
The project would create 10,000 construction jobs and 350 permanent jobs would be added to Exxon's 6,500-strong Baytown workforce, the company said.
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