“THIS is what $3bn looks like.” So beams a manager at Chevron Phillips Chemical (CPC), a petrochemical company jointly owned by Chevron and Phillips 66, both American oil firms. She throws open her arms in a figurative embrace of a giant cracker (pictured) built by the firm in Baytown, a gritty part of Houston. The new plant turns vast quantities of ethane, which is derived from natural gas, into ethylene, an important building block in plastic. Another nearby facility, which the firm has recently expanded, converts the ethylene into plastic resin that is sold worldwide. All told, CPC has spent some $6bn expanding its chemicals-production infrastructure around Houston.
A decade ago, this would have been unimaginable. Chemicals firms in America, beaten down by rivals from the Middle East that enjoyed cheap feedstocks and others from China feasting on subsidised capital, had not invested in new local plants in years. Growth in global demand for chemicals, once roaring, had slowed thanks to the…Continue reading