LyondellBasell may expand Channelview plant

LyondellBasell’s sprawling chemical plant in Channelview may get even bigger.

The international chemical giant, operated out of Houston, announced Wednesday that it is evaluating an expansion project to potentially boost the Channelview plant’s ethylene capacity by 550 million pounds per year.

Preliminary engineering work has begun to determine the feasibility of the project. If LyondellBasell decides to proceed, the expansion could be finished by 2017.

Among the largest petrochemical plants along the Gulf Coast, the Channelview facility covers 3,900 acres and employs 2,000 people.

The north side of the complex manufactures feedstocks such as ethylene, propylene and benzene for operations at the south plant, which makes propylene oxide, styrene monomer and other chemical building blocks for the manufacturing of clothing, bedding, packaging and automotive parts.

The proposed expansion project would be the latest investment for the company, which has announced a litany of new expansions and construction projects in recent years.

Related: LyondellBasell plans new chemical plant for Gulf Coast

The U.S. shale boom has touched off a petrochemical resurgence along the Gulf Coast thanks to vast supplies of natural gas, which have created cheap and abundant fuel and feedstock for U.S. chemical plants. Nearly 200 projects worth $124 billion have been announced in the past four years.

While some companies are building new plants from scratch, LyondellBasell has primarily invested in cheaper expansion projects at its existing facilities.

In Channelview, work is underway to install two large cracking furnaces slated to increase production by 250 million pounds per year. Construction is slated to finish early next year.

The company recently completed a project in La Porte to add 800 million pounds of ethylene capacity and the same amount of capacity is being added to the company’s Corpus Christi plant, with work slated to be finished in late 2015.

The capacity boost provided by those projects is equal to building a new stand-alone cracking unit, the company said.

Combined, these expansions will boost LyondellBasell’s ethylene capacity to 1.85 billion pounds per year. Adding to the Channelview plant could ratchet that number up to 2.4 billion pounds per year.

“Our strategy continues to be the cost-effective expansion of existing facilities to take swift advantage of abundant supplies of low cost natural gas and ethane from shale production,” Tim Roberts, executive vice president of olefins and polyolefins said in a statement.

The company says it is the world’s fifth-largest producer of ethylene.