Exxon Mobil, SABIC prefer site near Corpus Christi for massive plant

Exxon Mobil and Saudi Arabia’s top chemical company confirmed they are advancing plans to build a massive new petrochemical plant north of Corpus Christi in San Patricio County.

Plans for the multibillion-dollar project at the preferred site, which is being opposed by some local communities, are moving forward for the joint venture between Exxon and the Saudi Basic Industries Corp., known as SABIC.

If the plans fall through, Exxon and SABIC could still select from three other sites they were considering — one near Victoria and two in Louisiana.

“San Patricio County is the preferred site,” said SABIC spokeswoman Susan LeBourdais. “However, the three other potential locations are still under consideration.” The companies also added, “The project is advancing study of the San Patricio site.” They have filed applications to proceed with the county and the Gregory-Portland Independent School District.

Portland’s City Council voted in December to encourage Exxon and SABIC to build elsewhere, but the site is just outside of the city limits so the vote wasn’t binding. The 1,400-acre site is in an open area, but it’s still less than two miles from the public high school.

The plant would include the world’s largest ethane cracker, which turns a component of natural gas into ethylene, the primary building block of most plastics. The project also would include plastics manufacturing.

The project would create about 11,000 construction jobs and at least 600 permanent positions. The effort is another part of Saudi Arabia’s ambition to diversify more globally, including growing along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The chemical and plastics plant is the first U.S. joint venture for SABIC and Exxon Mobil, two of the world’s biggest energy companies. The plant could come online as early as 2020 if construction begins this year. The plan is to take advantage of cheap and ample shale natural gas available here to make chemicals and plastics.

The companies in the joint venture, which is dubbed Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, are proposing to build new roads and upgrade others near the site to accommodate the increased traffic. They also are saying the site will include “buffer zones” to keep the actual plant as far away from homes and road as possible to lessen any environmental and aesthetic harm.

The plant would receive its industrial water from Corpus Christi and its drinking water from the small cities of Portland and Gregory.