Exxon Mobil completes massive plastics expansion near Houston

Exxon Mobil said Monday it has completed a large plastics plant expansion in Mont Belvieu as part of a massive, multibillion-dollar petrochemical growth effort in the Houston area.

Exxon Mobil said it finished mechanical construction of two plastics facilities at its existing plant that will add 1.3 million metric tons of annual capacity to manufacture the world’s most common plastic, polyethylene. The plastic is created in the form of tiny plastic resin balls to be shipped overseas to meet the rapidly growing demand in nation’s with expanding middle classes like China and India.

The new plastic facilities won’t begin operation until some point in the third quarter of the year. A massive ethane cracker plant expansion is still under construction at Exxon Mobil’s large Baytown complex. The ethane cracker takes cheap and abundant ethane that’s found in shale natural gas liquids and converts the ethane into ethylene, which is the primary building block for most plastics. Easy access to the affordable shale ethane is the primary reason Exxon is continuing to expand its Texas petrochemical facilities.

“As an early mover to complete a polyethylene project fueled by the shale gas revolution, this world-scale, state-of-the-art facility will double the plant’s production capacity, making it one of the largest polyethylene plants in the world,” said Neil Chapman, president of Exxon Mobil Chemical.

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Exxon Mobil is investing several billion dollars to increase the production of ethylene and polyethylene at its Baytown and Mont Belvieu plants. The project represents the company’s first major U.S. chemical expansion in more than 15 years. The expansions are creating about 350 new permanent jobs, although the projects required nearly 10,000 temporary construction positions.

Exxon Mobil also has a joint venture with the Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corp., known as SABIC. The companies will soon decide when to move forward with building a $10 billion chemical plant near Corpus Christi.