Downstream

Mike Chamberlain

BD - Downstream, Global Projects & Integrated Supply

downstream@mrcglobalinsight.com

Activity remains relatively steady in the refining and chemical markets going into 2014, although we have seen some schedule changes in planned turnarounds. Chemical project activity in particular is starting to increase as many major expansion projects are moving from the planning phase into construction. Also, the favorable price of natural gas in the US (a major feedstock and energy source for the chemical industry) is driving a chemical project boom that is anticipated to stay strong for the coming years.

Based largely on advanced drilling technologies which have led to the increased production of crude oil, the US refining industry continues to enjoy the benefit of lower cost North American crude. Being that much of this production is located in areas where transporting can present challenges, the industry is starting to make the necessary investments to move the crude oil to refining markets for processing. In 2014, it is expected that refineries will continue to seek methods to increase processing capacity, while simultaneously reviewing plans to accommodate the various types of North American crude. US refinery exports are growing, influenced by lower production costs and increased demand in numerous markets outside of the country. As global consumption for gasoline and diesel continues to rise, some US refineries are leveraging capital to increase their production capacity.

The US chemical industry is expected to continue to take advantage of attractive natural gas prices. The general outlook is that natural gas prices will remain favorable for a number of years, fueling growth in the American chemical market. Several ethylene expansion projects have been funded and already broken ground, while many others are being planned. Similarly, the producers of polyethylene, ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride monomer, and other olefins are taking advantage of current market conditions. Also, as a feedstock for methanol, ammonia, agriculture chemicals and the fertilizer industry, favorable natural gas prices are expected to drive significant project activity in these markets. With strong consumer spending and competitive world market costs, investments in capacity expansions in 2014 and beyond are expected to support the growth.

In general, US activity increases are underway or in the planning stages and corresponding demand is expected to follow. The only foreseeable challenges could arise from some labor shortages in the US construction market. However, in response to this potential shortfall, many companies are exploring the idea of modular fabrication in Asia to assist with timely project completion.

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