American Chemistry Matters: Driving Innovation, Creating Jobs and Enhancing Safety

ExxonMobil on leading edge of shale-driven industrial renaissance, one step away from multi-billion dollar expansion at Baytown, TX

ExxonMobil is an early mover in America’s industrial renaissance fueled by abundant and affordable supplies of natural gas from shale and associated natural gas liquids. The company is awaiting the green light to begin construction on an exciting, multi-billion dollar expansion to its chemical facilities in Baytown, Texas — already one of the largest and most technologically advanced refining and petrochemical complexes in the world, according to Lynne Lachenmyer, executive vice president of basic chemicals at ExxonMobil.

Lachenmyer spoke on Wednesday before the House Natural Gas Caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Tom Reed (NY), Rep. Gene Green (TX), Rep. Glenn Thompson (PA) and Rep. Jim Costa (CA).

ExxonMobil Chemical’s commitment to its Baytown operations is huge for the city of Baytown, and it represents the single largest investment the company has ever made in the U.S. The site will see the construction of a new, world-scale natural gas liquid steam cracker to produce ethylene and propylene, which are the chemical building blocks for plastics, films and other chemical products delivered to domestic and export markets.

Investments like the planned Baytown chemical facility expansion, fueled by the U.S. shale gas boom, are helping to create high-paying jobs and can “open doors of opportunity for Americans eager to learn and master the skills needed for a career in the chemical industry,” Lachenmyer says.

Opening doors of opportunity

More than 6,000 people already work on the massive site along the Houston Ship Channel, and the company plans to mobilize the 10,000 construction jobs needed for its expansion project, in addition to adding 350 permanent jobs, which “will create ten times that number in indirect jobs” for the broader Houston and Baytown-area communities, Lachenmyer told Caucus members.

It really is a great example of new U.S. chemical investment that is creating high-paying jobs and is opening doors of opportunity for Americans eager to learn and master the skills needed for a career in the chemical industry.

As new shale-related projects move forward, the United States will need to address a shortage of skilled workers – a challenge that is broader than the chemical and energy industries, Lachenmyer says. Two-thirds of all U.S. manufacturers are experiencing moderate to severe worker shortages, with up to 600,000 jobs going unfilled, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

That’s why ExxonMobil has partnered with some of Houston’s top community colleges for an education and training initiative (dubbed “Houston + Natural Gas = Jobs”) that aims to attract as many as 50,000 students and educators across the state in the next five years. (Engineering students, are you paying attention? The average salary for skilled jobs in the Texas chemical industry has risen to nearly $100,000 a year!)

The importance of workforce training is getting a lot of attention. In his State of the Union address, President Obama underlined the need for business, labor and community colleges to work together to support vocational training programs. The White House has called these programs a “robust path to middle income jobs.”

One last step

Meanwhile, ExxonMobil is eagerly awaiting one final permit before it moves forward with its Baytown expansion. While the company has made good progress to date in the permitting effort, the estimated cost to ExxonMobil associated with the delay is $6 million per month, Lachenmyer told Caucus members.

Once the regulatory permits are in hand, the company can begin to mobilize the men and women needed to see the project through to its completion (and beyond).

There is certainly palpable excitement around the Baytown expansion and the more than 150 other anticipated chemical industry investment projects, valued at more than $100 billion, that are slated to come online over the next 5-10 years. The enthusiasm about passing the $100 billion milestone has made its way into media articles, and to the White House as well.

It’s time for the green light!

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