10 Major Downstream Projects To Watch In The USA


The US shale industry is rightly being heralded as the biggest energy industry success story...

NES Fircroft

By NES Fircroft

The US shale industry is rightly being heralded as the biggest energy industry success story of the past decade. But there’s another success story which hasn’t received quite the same attention; the US downstream sector.

Between 2011 and 2020 the US downstream industry is expected to add 27.9 million tonnes of new natural-gas derived production capacity, to overtake the Middle East. To achieve this increase in production major new downstream projects are being commissioned across the US.

Here are the 10 upcoming downstream projects to watch in the USA over the next five years.

1. Lake Charles Ethane Cracker and Derivatives

Location: Louisiana
Value: $11.6bn (approx.)
Start-Up: February 2019

Recently achieving start-up, the Lake Charles Ethane Cracker and Derivatives plant is situated, as its name suggest, on the banks of Lake Charles in Louisiana. Designed to make use of the abundant sources of natural-gas now coming from America’s shale operations the Lake Charles plant features an ethane-fed ethylene cracker to produce in the region of 1.5 million tons per annum of ethylene as well as related chemicals and derivatives. Approximately 90 of the cracker’s ethylene output will be converted into a diverse slate of commodity and high-margin speciality chemicals.

South African energy and chemical company Sasol is behind the Lake Charles project which it is hoping will roughly triple their chemical production capacity in the US. Approximately 5,000 construction jobs were created by the project, and going forward around 500 permanent members of staff will be required at the Lake Charles plant.

2. St. James Petrochemical Complex – Phase 1

Location: Louisiana
Value: $9.4bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2021

Formosa Petrochemical Corporation has purchased over 2,400 acres of land in Louisiana for its St. James Petrochemical Complex. Also known as ‘The Sunshine Project’, the St. James Petrochemical Complex will be constructed in two phases, the first of which will see the construction of an ethane cracker and associated plants in order to crack ethane into 1.2 million tonnes per annum (tpa) of ethylene; 600,000 tpa of propylene and 400,000 tpa of polyethylene.

Other facilities to be built during this phase include low-density polyethylene (LDPE), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), ethylene glycol (EG) and polypropylene (PP) plants.

According to Formosa, the St. James Petrochemical Complex will create 1,200 new direct jobs (as well as thousands more in the supply chain), with an average salary of $84,500 plus benefits. Construction of the complex is anticipated to create upwards of 8,000 jobs with over $362 million in taxes generated for the state of Louisiana once the Complex starts-up in 2021.

3. Belmont County Ethane Cracker

Location: Ohio
Value: $7.5bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2021

A ‘world-scale cracker’ will be coming to Belmont County according to PTT Global Chemicals, the company behind the planned Belmont County Ethane Cracker.

Situated along the Ohio River, the Belmont Ethane Cracker will be ideally located to make use of the vast amounts of gas being produced in the Marcellus and Bakken shales as feedstock. Planned cracking capacity of the plant is 1.5 million tonnes per annum (tpa), with the plant also have the capacity to produce 700,000 tpa of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), 500,000 tpa of monoethylene glycol (MEG) and 100,000 tpa of ethylene oxide.

Although the project is still undergoing regulatory review, PTT Global Chemicals is confident that the outcome will be positive. Construction of the plant will create in the region of 10,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs once it has started up in 2021.

4. San Patricio PetChem Facility

Location: Texas
Value: $7.3bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2022

ExxonMobil and SABIC have joined forces under the guise of ‘Gulf Coast Growth Ventures’ to develop the San Patricio PetChem Facility in Texas which will undertake advanced plastic manufacturing. Like the projects above, the project partners state that it’s the large volumes of natural gas available from US shale which have made this project viable.

The proposed San Patricio facility will consist of a 1.8 mtpa ethane cracker (potentially the largest of its kind in the world) that will feed into a monoethylene glycol unit and two polyethylene units. Located near to Corpus Christi, the San Patricio PetChem Facility will have easy access to the state’s excellent existing downstream infrastructure such as ports, railroads and pipelines.

On completion in 2022 the San Patricio PetChem Facility will create over 600 permanent jobs with an average annual salary of $90,000. An additional 3,500 indirect and induced jobs will be created across Texas as a direct result of the facility.

5. Port Arthur Integrated Petrochemical and Chemical Complex

Location: Texas
Value: $6.6bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2022

Saudi Aramco has been making major moves into the downstream sector in recent years, one of these being the forthcoming Port Arthur Integrated Petrochemical and Chemical Complex to be situated on the US Gulf Coast.

Although still in the conceptual design stage, the facility is likely to feature a steam cracker with a production capacity of 2 mtpa of ethylene, as well as an aromatics complex to produce 2 mtpa of benzyne and paraxylene.

A final investment decision (FID) on proceeding with the complex is expected from Saudi Aramco at some point this year. Should an FID be made then the Port Arthur Petrochemical and Chemical Complex could start up during the fourth quarter of 2022.

6. Shell Franklin Monaca Ethane Cracker

Location: Pennsylvania
Value: $6bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2022

Also known as ‘Shell Polymers’, the Shell Franklin Monaca Ethane Cracker is being planned to compliment Shell’s upstream operations in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays. The planned facility would process the wet gas production stream (NGLs) coming from the Appalachian shales.

It is understood that the facility will feature an ethylene cracker unit (ECU) which will take 80,000b/d of ethane and convert it into 1.5 million tonnes of ethylene per year to be used as feedstock for plastic.

Other planned facilities at Shell Polymers include three polyethylene units that would have combined capacity of 1.6 mtpa.

During peak construction activities, the facility will create up to 6,000 jobs. Once the site transitions into an operational phase (most likely in 2022), there will be approximately 600 jobs onsite at Shell Polymers.

7. Shoal Point Methanol Plant

Location: Texas
Value: $4.5bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2020

Two Chinese firms, Connell Group and Sino Life Insurance Co, have joined forces to build a huge methanol plant and deep-port export facility in the Shoal Point area of Texas. According to initial plans, the plant will convert 560 MMcf/d of natural gas into 7.2 mtpa of methanol which will then be exported to China. 

The project is expected to create at least 500 new permanent direct jobs in Shoal Point, plus as many as 200 new additional indirect and contract positions on the site. During construction up to 1,000 jobs will be created. The developers are also considering a later second phase which would, if pursued, create one of the largest methanol plants in the world.

8. Point Comfort Plastics & Petrochemical Plant – Olefins 3 Expansion

Location: Texas
Value: $3bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2019

Rather than a completely new project like many of the others in this article, the Point Comfort Plastics & Petrochemical Plant is undergoing a significant expansion with the addition of a 1.59 million tpa ethylene unit, as associated 725,000 tpa propane dehydrogenation (PDH) unit which will consist of 14 cracking furnaces, four PDH reactors, four steam boilers, and other associated equipment.

Operated by Formosa Plastics Corporation, it is estimated that the Point Comfort expansion project will create 1,800 jobs during the construction phase, and 225 permanent jobs once the project is completed. ​

9. Lake Charles Ethane Cracker (LACC)

Location: Louisiana
Value: $3bn (approx.)
Start-Up: May 2019

Lotte Chemical company is another which is keen to take advantage of the US’s abundant shale gas supplies, and has been in the process of constructing the Lake Charles Ethane Cracker (LACC) in Louisiana.

At the heart of the project is an ethane cracker capable of producing 1 million tonnes per annum (tpa) of ethylene. The project will utilise CB&I’s technology, including highly selective SRT cracking heaters and recovery section design, featuring low pressure separation and mixed refrigeration.

The project was inaugurated and began operating this month. Lotte Chemical’s has also relocated its US headquarters from Houston to a new building near the site in Louisiana.

In total, the Lake Charles Ethane Cracker (LACC) will create 265 new direct jobs. The average salary for these new jobs is $75,500 plus benefits. The Louisiana Economic Development body estimates that the Lake Charles Ethane Cracker will also result in over 2,300 new indirect jobs across the state.

10. Beaumont Refinery Expansion – Third Crude Distillation Unit (Crude C)

Location: Texas
Value: $3bn (approx.)
Start-Up: 2022

ExxonMobil is one of the largest players within the American downstream sector, and with projects such as the Beaumont Refinery Expansion it clearly aims to remain one.

The Beaumont expansion project will add 250,000 b/d of new refining capacity, and will see the addition of a third crude distillation unit (CDU). The proposed unit will convert light crude oil from the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico into refined products including diesel and gasoline.

The expansion project also consists of several ‘grassroots’ components including an Atmospheric Pipe Still (Crude Unit), a Kerosene Hydrotreater, a Diesel Hydrotreater and a Depentenizer along with peripheral expansions to the tank farm, intermediate products facilities and the finished product facilities.

The new units of this expansion project will be integrated into the existing facilities at the refinery. Up to 1,850 construction jobs and between 40 and 60 permanent jobs will be created upon completion.

With the growth of America’s downstream industry comes jobs

​The shale boom is clearly having enormous benefits for the downstream sector. The huge amounts of natural gas being produced from the nation’s shale formations mean that refiners and petrochem producers have easy access to large amounts of cheap feedstock. It’s a win win situation which is helping to fuel an almost unprecedented growth of America’s downstream sector.

And, as we always say here at EngineeringPro, with growth comes jobs!

Lakes Charles, Louisiana and Corpus Christi, and Port Arthur, Texas are already jobs hotspots and will become even more so as the projects outlined above move into operational phase over the coming 5 years.

Major projects need major talent

​Take the next step in your downstream career with NES Fircroft! Our dedicated team of industry-specific recruiters in Houston, Texas can help you find and secure your next job. 

Since 1970 we’ve served some of the biggest downstream companies and projects in the world and enjoy a reputation for excellent contractor customer care. Open up a world of opportunity and explore our current Oil & Gas jobs or register your CV / resume with NES Fircroft today and be the first in line to secure employment on the major American downstream projects of 2021 and beyond.

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