Saudi Arabia signaled its intent to expand chemical production along the U.S. Gulf Coast and potentially double the size of North America’s biggest oil refinery.
The kingdom’s state-owned crude producer is joining with U.K. oilfield-services firm TechnipFMC Plc to assess the potential for producing ethylene, a key component in plastics, Saudi Aramco’s Motiva Enterprises LLC unit said in a statement Saturday. A second accord with Honeywell International Inc. could lead to the construction of a new manufacturing complex in the heart of the U.S. petrochemicals industry.
In a separate presentation at a lavish reception for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Houston, Motiva said it’s considering doubling the size of its refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. The announcement comes less than a year after Aramco paid $2.2 billion to Royal Dutch Shell Plc to gain sole control of the Port Arthur plant and some other Motiva assets the two companies controlled as part of a joint venture.
The investment is estimated between $8 billion and $10 billion, but no formal decision on the chemical projects is expected until 2019, Motiva said in the statement. Still, the kingdom has already hired longtime Dow Chemical Chief Executive Officer Andrew N. Liveris to act as an adviser after he departs the DowDuPont Inc. unit on July 1, said Saudi Basic Industries Corp. CEO Yousef al Benyan in an interview in Texas.
“These agreements signal our plans for expansion into petrochemicals,” Motiva CEO Brian Coffman said in the statement. “We are excited to work more closely with these leaders in the industry to further assess our opportunities for investment.”
Bin Salman, heir to the throne of the world’s largest oil exporter, is wrapping up a three-week tour of the U.S. to promote his effort to open up the Saudi economy through his “Vision 2030” plan.
Saudi Basic, the Middle East’s dominant chemical maker, said on Saturday that it wants to build a Houston headquarters for its Western Hemisphere operations as the company capitalizes on the surge in cheap natural gas supplies from North American shale fields.
In a late March stop in New York, the prince signed a memorandum of understanding with Softbank Group Corp. to build at $200 billion solar power development.
Investments in the U.S. were announced as Aramco plans an initial public offering for as soon as the second half of this year. Proceeds from the share sale should be used to expand the company’s footprint in refining and petrochemicals, rather than in oil exploration and production, Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said in a March 26 Bloomberg television interview in New York.
Nasser also said Aramco is looking at a two- to three-fold expansion of its petrochemicals business from a “huge” global capacity, now that the Sadara joint venture with Dow Chemical is complete. Total SA, the French energy major, and Aramco are due to sign a non-binding agreement on April 10 to develop the petrochemical site at their refinery in Al-Jubail, a person familiar with the matter said April 6.
TechnipFMC declined comment. A voicemail left with Honeywell outside of normal business hours wasn’t immediately returned.