Exxon Mobil to decide soon on $10B Texas petrochemical plant

Exxon Mobil Corp. said it will decide as soon as May whether to move forward with a planned $10 billion petrochemical complex north of Corpus Christi now that it has the desired tax breaks approved.

The Gregory-Portland School Board approved the requested tax abatement late Tuesday evening, just one day after the San Patricio County Commissioners also approved the property tax breaks totaling $460 million. The votes were delayed a couple of months because of community opposition, especially from Portland residents who fear their bedroom community transforming into a new industrial corridor.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to listen to the community. We will continue to learn from those with whom we have the privilege to dialogue with – regardless of whether or not they support the project,” wrote Robert Tully, Exxon’s project executive, in a prepared statement.

The project is a joint venture between Exxon Mobil and the state-owned Saudi Basic Industries Corp., or SABIC, that’s called Gulf Coast Growth Ventures. Tully said the team will wrap up the site selection in the next two or three months and then begin the required permitting processes. They considered three other Texas and Louisiana sites, but always preferred the Corpus Christi region for its proximity to pipelines, railways, highways, employee housing and port access.

The plant, to be just outside the city limits of Portland and Gregory, sparked strong opposition in the communities, which together have about 20,000 residents. The debate, as in many other cities and towns where major developments are proposed, turned on the question of whether the promised jobs and economic growth were worth the plant’s effect on the character and quality of life of the communities.

The plant, the largest proposed in Texas, would create an estimated 11,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent ones, and feature the world’s biggest ethane cracker, which processes a component of natural gas into ethylene, the primary building block of most plastics.

The project, which could be completed as soon as 2021, is designed to capitalize on cheap Texas shale natural gas to make chemicals and plastics for emerging markets like China and India. Exxon Mobil and SABIC pledged to be sensitive to concerns of the community and residents by including, for example, green spaces and a half-mile buffer around the 1,400-acre site for the plant.

The plant near Corpus Christi is not Exxon Mobil’s only project. Karen McKee, Exxon Mobil vice president for global basic chemical, said the company expects to complete by year-end a massive ethane cracker and plastics expansion at its Baytown and Mont Belvieu sites, with plans to sell much of the production in foreign markets.