Underway: Ethane cracker project launched

Published 12:49 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2018

By Ken Stickney


Total, Borealis and NOVA Chemicals, operating a joint venture as Bayport Polymers LLC, symbolically launched construction of an ethane cracker at the Total Port Arthur Refinery on Monday, a $1.7-billion project that has drawn widespread attention within the petrochemical industry.

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About 1,500 construction jobs and 60 permanent jobs are expected first during construction, then after the cracker starts up in 2020.

Construction will start on ground cleared near Highway 73 near Total’s Port Arthur Refinery and Total/BASF steam cracker. Preparations in advance of construction have been continuing on the site for about a year.

“We are excited to see the construction of our first project in the joint venture with Borealis and NOVA,” said Bernard Pinatel, president of refining and chemicals for Total. “This project is in perfect alignment with Total’s strategy to expand in petrochemicals by leveraging our integrated platforms like Port Arthur and taking advantage of the abundance of ethane in the U.S.”

“We are excited to see this project come to fruition and officially break ground,” said Mark Garrett, chief executive of Borealis. “Our partnership with Total and NOVA Chemicals will position us as a leader in the U.S. and allow us to deploy sophisticated technology with our partners.”

“The ethane steam cracker is the first phase of our joint venture with Total and Borealis, which will help us gain additional access to the U.S. Gulf Coast,” Todd Karran, CEO of Calgary-based NOVA said. “This project will allow us to better serve our customers throughout the Americas by delivering a broader slate of products….”

The three, joined by Bryan Canfield, Total Port Arthur’s plant manager, answered news media questions following the groundbreaking.

Pinatel was enthusiastic about this project in particular and about Total’s investment in the U.S. in general.

He said Total is involved with everything from deepwater projects in the Gulf of Mexico to petrochemicals. There may be additional investment, too, although he declined to say what that might be.

“We’re very active in the U.S.,” he said, adding that Total has invested more than $6 billion in the U.S. since 2015.

He cited specific advantages to this project, including its proximity to a second ethane cracker, inexpensive feedstock from western Texas and Canada and new technology, all of which he said made for a “perfect combination” of advantages.

Mark Garrett of Austrian-based Borealis said he would retire in July, and was delighted the project is coming to fruition now. It took a lot of negotiation to get to this point, he said, which he referred to as “a dream come true.”

The executives did not seem shaken by U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, recently applied to Canada, Mexico and the European Union. Canfield said the contract appears to be “established and not exposed.”

“Our policy is one of open trade,” added Karran.

Canfield said the Total site, seemingly hemmed in by highway and neighboring facilities, is not only accommodating this project, but would accommodate future ones if needed.

“The footprint for the cracker is tight,” he said. “But we are still looking for opportunities for new project ideas.

“We have a lot of intelligent people here locally,” he said. “If we see a good project, we will make it happen.”

“This is a great opportunity for the city of Port Arthur,” said Councilman Thomas Kinlaw, who participated in the groundbreaking. “We are happy to be part of it.”

Councilwoman Charlotte Moses called the project “a blessing for our city and community. We are thankful they chose Port Arthur.”

The cracker will produce a base ingredient for plastics.