Buoyed by onshore stores of natural gas, ExxonMobil Chemical Co. has ramped up production on the first of two 650,000 ton/year high-performance polyethylene lines at its plastics plant at the giant liquids hub in Mont Belvieu, TX.

The project is one of 11 under ExxonMobil’s broader Growing the Gulf expansion initiative for petrochemical and refinery expansions, supported by a supple supply of onshore gas and oil resources. The Gulf initiative is part of a strategy by ExxonMobil to move more of its global investments to the U.S. onshore, fueled by its production growth in the Permian Basin and elsewhere.

The Mont Belvieu facility’s expansion is designed to boost the plastic plant’s polyethylene capacity by 1.3 million ton/year.

“The expansion of our Mont Belvieu facility further enhances our ability to meet growing global demand for high-performance polyethylene products around the world,” said ExxonMobil Chemical President Neil Chapman. “The investments we’re making through our Growing the Gulf initiative will not only expand our existing manufacturing and export capacity, but will further stimulate local economic growth and create thousands of full-time jobs.”

The Mont Belvieu plant’s capacity would total more than 2.5 million ton/year, making it one of the largest polyethylene plants in the world. A significant portion of the polyethylene is destined for export from the Port of Houston later this month. At peak, the site would ship more than 200 containers a day.

ExxonMobil is planning to invest more than $20 billion over a decade’s time to build and expand manufacturing facilities along the Gulf Coast. The 11 projects in the queue are expected to generate more than 45,000 jobs, including 12,000-plus full-time jobs.

The expansion initiative overall covers major chemical, refining, lubricant and liquefied natural gas projects along the Texas and Louisiana coasts near Houston in Beaumont and Baytown, and outside of Corpus Christi, 300 miles south, as well as in Baton Rouge, LA.

The No. 1 North American natural gas producer has steadily been building its unconventional oil investments, particularly in the Permian Basin and Bakken Shale. By 2018, domestic onshore drilling is expected to absorb about one-half of ExxonMobil’s global budget, with output forecast to increase every year on average by 20% through 2020.

In April ExxonMobil and Saudi Arabian partner Saudi Basic Industries Corp. agreed to develop a world-class ethane steam cracker near Corpus Christi that would be able to produce 1.8 million metric ton/year of ethylene. The proposed project, to be sited in San Patricio County, would feed a monoethylene glycol unit and two polyethylene units. The cracker once completed is expected to be the largest in the world.