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Williams CEO: Shale Creating Petrochemical 'Renaissance'

Shale formations are poised to create a renaissance in the U.S. petrochemical industry, Williams CEO Alan Armstrong said Wednesday.

Armstrong was keynote speaker at the 26th Annual World Petrochemical Conference in Houston.

"Over the past several years, people have come to realize that the incredible natural gas resources we have here in the United States can be a transformational force in our nation's energy picture," Armstrong said. "The positive impact on the U.S. petrochemical industry, which uses natural gas liquids as feedstock, can be just as significant."

Williams is one company positioned to help capture and produce the natural gas, with close to $25 billion in gas infrastructure -- midstream, pipelines and exploration -- across the United States, Canada and South America. Williams, said Armstrong, offers "clear visibility to North American ethane," with processing plants in the Rockies, the Midcontinent, along the Gulf Coast and into Canada.

With 100-plus years of supply "and growing," shale resources have become increasingly economical to produce and resulted in an "infrastructure boom in the last decade with new, more flexible storage -- and 16,000-plus miles of new interstate pipelines."

The revolution erupted in the Barnett Shale, but the uprising in the Marcellus Shale is even bigger, said Armstrong. For instance, estimated ultimate recoveries (EUR) from a Barnett well are 2.1 Bcfe, while in the Marcellus a well's EUR is around 3.6 Bcfe -- a 71% increase.

Finding and development (F&D) costs also are lower in the Marcellus, according to Armstrong. F&D costs for a Marcellus well are $1.19/Mcfe, versus $2.22 in the Barnett. And there's a lot more to explore: technically recoverable resources are estimated at 262 Tcf in the Marcellus versus 44 Tcf in the Barnett Shale, noted the Williams chief.

The price of natural gas has dropped, but so too have costs to produce it. The break-even point in the Marcellus Shale currently is estimated at $3.25/Mcf; in the Barnett it's at $3.70.

By capturing the liquids in the gas, it's created a "major economic uplift and lower net cost of production," which in turn has led to a "renaissance" in the petrochemical industry. The boost for ethane from major shale gas infrastructure is yet to come, said Armstrong.

"Production levels are breaking records daily, and ethane production from gas plants is up 33% since 2003. Cracking capacity is expected to grow 10% by 2015," he said.

Shale gas reserves "with moderate prices, along with a growing and reliable infrastructure, can provide petrochemical companies with plentiful and reliable feedstock for years to come," Armstrong told the audience. "That's a significant benefit to an industry that stands out as a key driver of U.S. exports, produces a vast array of essential products that touch people's everyday lives and creates thousands of value-adding jobs."

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