Burgeoning gas supplies from shale plays are a boon not just to producers and domestic energy security hawks; they're bringing smiles to executives across the U.S. petrochemical industry, too.

"Right now for the first time in a long time we're very globally competitive when it comes to petrochemical manufacturing, and our members definitely recognize that and are a lot more upbeat about things right now than they were a few years ago," said the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association's (NPRA) James Cooper, vice president for petrochemicals.

Among petrochemical interests, natural gas liquids (NGL) are generally seen as abundant and are expected to remain so, Cooper said, with low prices to match. "Unless somehow the government gets in the way, we're going to be very competitive, and it's primarily because of the cost of our raw materials. We have very flexible manufacturing in this country, and so unlike other regions that are more dependent on a barrel of oil for their petrochemicals we have a lot of flexibility in our manufacturing processes."

Those manufacturing processes churn out products that are used in numerous other manufacturing processes. In other words, the petrochemical industry is at the top of the supply chain of the U.S. manufacturing industry in general, Cooper told NGI.

"We're hoping for a turnaround where the government realizes this isn't just about energy anymore; this is also about feedstocks for petrochemical production and how that influences all manufacturing in the United States because basically from our members come the raw materials for all of the other manufacturing processes going down the supply chain," he said.

"There's a great deal of education that's going to be needed, especially when you've got a lot of new members in Congress. You'll get some folks who are from states that have robust petrochemical manufacturing within those states. They're going to be more in tune with it. But there are a lot of folks on key committees who are not from those kinds of states who really don't understand how the manufacturing supply chain works, and that's going to be one of our upcoming missions is to fully educate some of the lawmakers and other folks as well."

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