I don't tend to spend a lot of time trying to correct news reports in other media, but I'll make an exception today. Earlier today, National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" did a report on Shell Oil Co.'s plan to build a new petrochemical cracker in Ohio, West Virginia or Pennsylvania. (As an aside, my guess is they'll pick West Virginia). The report quotes a Case Western Reserve University geologist about the importance of the cracker to the domestic plastics industry. Unfortunately, the interview is boiled down to a point where it sounds like she believes plastic resin is no longer made in the United States. "Plastic was made overseas, and that's because there wasn't enough natural gas," Beverly Saylor said. "But now with all the shale gas development, the price has come down on that, and so it's now worth it." NPR tends to do good work, but I think they left listeners with the wrong impression on this story. What they meant to say is that until recently, when companies started to tap into natural gas in the Western Marcellus and Utica Shale regions, there have been few investments in new polyethylene capacity in the United States. Plastics News said as much last month, in a story by senior reporter Frank Esposito that started: "Cross this one off the list of things that were never going to happen again: New polyethylene capacity is headed for the U.S." But that doesn't mean that no one has been making resin in the United States for the past decade. The truth is that the U.S. is consistently a net exporter of plastic resin. Even as the U.S. has racked up big trade deficits, plastic resin has been a rare bright spot. For a while it has looked like at some point in the future the U.S. would become a net importer of resin. The experts had predicted that low-cost feedstocks in the Middle East would encourage manufacturers to make resin there and ship it around the world. But the new natural gas discoveries in the United States seem to be giving new life to the domestic industry. I hope this helps to set the record straight. Shell's new cracker will be big news. But it would be hyperbole to imply that it marks a return of resin manufacturing to the United States. Because it never really left. What's actually returning is the investment in new capacity.
Despite what you've heard, US plants still make plastic
Do you have an opinion about this story? Do you have some thoughts you'd like to share with our readers? Plastics News would love to hear from you. Email your letter to Editor at [email protected]
The only North American conference targeting plastics caps and closures makers, the Plastics Caps & Closures conference, held Sept. 9-11, 2019, in Chicago, provides a hotbed of discussion on many of the top innovations, process and product technologies, materials, trends and consumer insights that influence both packaging and caps and closures development.