School board voting Tuesday on Exxon-Saudi petrochemical plant

A Texas school board north of Corpus Christi is set to vote Tuesday on tax breaks that could help decide whether a $10 billion petrochemical complex is built.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and the state-owned Saudi Basic Industries Corp., or SABIC, are proposing the massive chemicals and plastics plant be located adjacent to the Portland and Gregory communities, and about one mile from local schools. The project has led to substantial community opposition from residents who see their smallish bedroom community turning into an industrial corridor.

As expected, the San Patricio County Commissioners Court approved property tax breaks for the project on Monday in a 4-1 vote, touting the jobs and tax revenues the project will bring. The Gregory-Portland School Board is scheduled to vote on Tuesday evening. Exxon Mobil and SABIC are seeking about $460 million in property tax breaks from the governmental entities.

School Board President Randy Eulenfeld doesn’t support the location of the project, but he also wants the schools and community to benefit if Exxon and SABIC decide to build there no matter what. The school board would actually receive an extra $1.63 million a year on average for more than 15 years if it grants the tax breaks.

“It’s a difficult thing when your community starts going through a change,” Eulenfeld said Monday.

The largest proposed petrochemical project in Texas would be built from scratch and would include the world’s biggest ethane cracker, which turns a component of natural gas into ethylene, the primary building block of most plastics, as well as other plastics manufacturing operations. The companies say the site will include green spaces and a half-mile buffer around the plant, which could begin operations as soon as 2021. The 1,400-acre site is mostly cotton fields now.

Exxon and SABIC announced in July they would form a joint venture to build a Gulf Coast petrochemical plant to take advantage of Texas cheap and ample natural gas produced from the shale boom. After considering three other sites – one in Texas, two in Louisiana – they came to favor Gregory-Portland in San Patricio County because of its access to natural gas pipelines, as well as the proximity to ports, railways, highways and housing.

The companies say the project would create 11,000 temporary construction jobs and about 600 permanent positions.