Company officials, local leaders discuss importance of ExxonMobil Beaumont polyethylene plant expansion to local economy, global demand

A project to expand ExxonMobil’s Beaumont polyethylene plant is right on track, according to the company, and should allow it to remain a global leader in the manufacturing of plastic products.
The BPEX project, which was announced in November 2016, will increase capacity by 65 percent – or approximately 716,502 tons per year. The plant is already at about 1.1 million tons of production a year. Completion is anticipated in 2019.
“This is a substantial project,” said Golden Triangle Roundtable Executive Director Dennis Isaacs, who pointed out that ExxonMobil is one of the largest petrochemical manufacturers in the world. “This investment is not only going to expand their capacity, but the stimulus to the economy and the job creation is also going to be of considerable importance.”
The Beaumont project is expected to employ about 1,400 workers at the peak of construction and ultimately add about 40 permanent jobs to the company’s total Beaumont-area workforce of 2,100 employees, according to ExxonMobil Project Executive Vincent Yuskiewicz.
“The Beaumont facility is one of the key elements to the overall ExxonMobil polyethylene production here in the U.S.,” Yuskiewicz told the Business Journal. “Between this investment and the one that is occurring in Baytown and Mont Belvieu, that brings total Texas production up by 2 million tons per year of polyethylene production. That’s 40 percent of our overall production, so clearly a lion’s share of production for the U.S. is based here in Texas.”
The ability to capture the available shale gas through the fracking process has stimulated the petrochemical business along the Gulf Coast for companies like ExxonMobil, Isaacs said.
“The abundance of the new supplies of shale gas … is giving them an opportunity to increase their capacity substantially to meet the global demand for polyethylene,” he said.
The ExxonMobil expansion is projected to generate $20 billion in economic activity in the first 13 years of operation, according to estimates from a 2015 Impact Data Source study.
“You’re going to see both short-term economic impact in terms of construction jobs and the creation of permanent jobs, and that investment is going to have trickle down (effects) substantially to our local economy,” Isaacs said.
According to Tammy Mallaise, senior vice president of Employee Relations at the Zachry Group, which has been contracted by ExxonMobil to provide construction planning, electrical and instrumentation design, and direct-hire responsibilities for the project, Zachry crews are hard at work on the 23-acre site.
“Zachry began initial work at the site in November 2016,” Mallaise reports in a recent article on LinkedIn. “During construction, workers will place about 6,000 tons of steel, pour about 20,000 cubic yards of concrete and install about 210,000 feet of pipe. …
“To date, the construction project team has accomplished a number of key milestones including setting up a new employment office, temporary warehouses and a lunch tent, as well as establishing electrical and potable water tie-ins. The project team is now focused on getting out of the ground by the end of September.
“The work plan through 2017 includes completing paving work to support structural steel erection, starting structural steel installation in major critical-path areas, installation of a purge bin, reactor and cycle-gas compressor, and some above-ground piping installation.”
The decision for ExxonMobil to invest in their Beaumont polyethlene plant is directly linked to global population growth, which is creating energy demand worldwide, Yuskiewicz said.
“As the economies around the world grow and we have an increasing middle class, there will be a significant demand for increased petrochemical projects,” he said. ExxonMobil’s 2017 Outlook for Energy estimates there will be 1.8 billion more people by 2040 for a total of 9 billion people in the world, with India likely to replace China as the most populous nation by 2025. "In fact, we expect chemical demand to really grow by 45 percent, or 4 percent a year, which is faster than the overall projected growth of the global economy. With that the demands come for polyethylene products.”
ExxonMobil’s Exceed and Enable polymers are especially well-suited for demanding applications such as liquid and food packaging, construction liners and agricultural films, Yuskiewicz said. The polymers are designed to run at faster production rates and were developed through advanced catalyst technology, process research and applications expertise, he said.
“The advantages of these polymers are that they are stronger than conventional polymers, which means that we can use less material for the variety of applications that we have,” Yuskiewicz said. “We look at the three primary forms of applications really being around use in food packaging, shipping packaging, and agricultural films. … Of course given the properties of this, we hope to see even more expanded usage across various industries.”
To feed the growing world population, agricultural efficiencies are critical.
In 2016, ExxonMobil introduced a next-generation plastic, Exceed XP, to meet this challenge. This product allows development of new-to-the-world, cost-effective film and liner solutions in a range of applications that help reduce food spoilage, decrease supply chain costs, and increase crop yields.
Agricultural film can increase yields up to 60 percent through improved moisture retention, weed control and temperature management, supporting an extended growing season, according to ExxonMobil literature. The films help farmers economically increase their efficiency, allowing them to feed more people while conserving resources such as water, nutrients and fertilizer.
ExxonMobil has also developed plastic packaging solutions that can help preserve freshness and protect products, from farms to grocery shelves to kitchen tables.
For example, according to ExxonMobil literature, a cucumber, which is 96 percent water, begins to dehydrate as soon as it is picked. After three days, it has lost so much water that it becomes dull, limp and unsellable. Wrapping it in just 1.5 grams of plastic film, however, can extend its shelf life to 14 days.
“With global trade continuing to increase, appropriate shipping protection is becoming much more important and relevant,” Yuskiewicz said.
Regina Lindsey, president of the Greater Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, said ExxonMobil continues to choose the Beaumont area for expansion projects like this one because it has such a great relationship with the city.
“Any time there’s a company that has done business in your community for a number of years and they decide to keep investing, that means that you’re doing something right,” she said. “That speaks volumes for the relationship between the community and the company.”

Photo courtesy of ExxonMobil - Work is underway at ExxonMobil’s polyethylene expansion site in Beaumont. The expansion of the Beaumont polyethylene plant at 11440 US 90 is projected to generate $20 billion in economic activity in the first 13 years of operation, according to a 2015 Impact Data Source study.