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Total, Partners Planning Ethane Cracker, Polyethylene Unit For U.S. Gulf Coast

France's Total is planning a joint venture with Borealis and Nova Chemicals to construct a $1.7 billion ethane steam cracker and a new polyethylene unit on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"After significant investments in U.S. LNG and U.S. shale gas in 2016, this almost $2 billion investment signals our determination to strengthen our presence in the United States, where we have operated for 60 years and have more than 6,000 employees," said CEO Patrick Pouyanné. "By joining forces with Borealis and Nova, we aim to create a major player in the US polyethylene market."

Borealis, which is based in Vienna, Austria, is a leading producer of polyethylene and polypropylene. Nova is a leading plastics and chemicals producer.

Total would hold a 50% stake in the venture, which would include building a 1 million ton/year ethane steam cracker in Port Arthur, TX; Total's existing polyethylene 400 kiloton/year plant in Bayport, TX; and building a 625 kiloton/year Borstar polyethylene plant on the Bayport site.

The joint venture is expected to be established late this year and a final investment decision on the Borstar polyethylene plant is expected to be made then.

The new cracker would be online 2020, Total said Mon day. The engineering, procurement and construction contract for the cracker has been awarded by Total to CB&I.

The cracker would be built alongside Total's Port Arthur refinery and Total/BASF existing steam cracker. "By leveraging synergies with its existing world-class integrated platform in Texas, Total optimized capital expenditure and will deliver one of the most competitive cracker projects in the US," the company said.

The abundance of available gas in the United States as a result of the shale revolution provides two competitive advantages for petrochemicals: access to low-cost energy to run the facilities and competitively priced ethane feedstock, Total said.

U.S ethane production is expected to increase over the next two years as the petrochemical industry consumes more and new export facilities ramp-up their overseas shipments, according to a recent Energy Information Administration Short-Term Energy Outlook.

Total owns the Port Arthur refinery and has a 40% interest in a condensate splitter, which have a total capacity of 202,000 b/d. Port Arthur refinery is integrated with a steam cracker in which the group has a 40% interest through a joint venture with BASF (60%). Total also operates one of the world's largest polypropylene plants, in La Porte, TX; the world's largest polystyrene plant, in Carville, LA; and two high-density polyethylene lines in Bayport.

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