Through the end of March, nearly 100 chemical investment projects that capitalize on shale gas had been announced, the report found. Valued at $71.7 billion, the new plants are expected to generate $66.8 billion in annual chemical output and create some 500,000 jobs in chemical plants and surrounding communities by 2020.
“There’s been a dramatic change in the past five years,” Calvin M. Dooley, ACC’s chief executive officer, told reporters during a press conference at the event.
Dooley was particularly proud that more than half of the announced spending is from companies based outside the U.S. In the decade prior to 2010, he said, investment left the U.S. at a prodigious rate, causing a 20–25% decline in the chemical industry’s employee ranks.
Yet ACC’s top officers acknowledged that the full impact of shale gas is yet to be seen and that it can’t offset the effects of a weak overall U.S. economy, stagnation in Europe, or even production woes. On the first day of the meeting, ACC released statistics showing that U.S. chemical production this year through April is up only 0.6%.This comment about manpower was especially interesting:
And the blossoming of multiple new plants after many fallow years will strain the engineering and construction industries, executives acknowledged. As it is, companies that scheduled plant maintenance in the spring had trouble finding qualified welders and pipe fitters, Gallogly said, and the problem will only worsen when big ethylene facilities start getting built.
“There should be significant manpower shortages,” he said. The ethylene crackers that have been announced won’t all be built, Gallogly predicted, and some of those that are built will be delayed for reasons of manpower and permitting.It seems like there are always shortages of experienced welders.
One hopes that, after a while, there will be a boom in the hiring of research chemists in the chemical and polymer industries to take advantage of relatively inexpensive and plentiful natural gas. We've really yet to see evidence of that, though, just a lot of promised jobs. (FWIW, I think there will be.)