x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

North America's shale boom a threat for GCC fertilizer producers

North American shale gas threatens to erode a core market for the Arabian Gulf's fertilizer industry, warned an industry association.

North American shale gas threatens to erode a core market for the Arabian Gulf's fertilizer industry, warned an industry association.

GCC members export half of their fertilizer production abroad, and North America is their second biggest market after Asia with orders totalling 1.7 million tonnes a year.

Those trade flows could shift against the region's favour as North American competitors take advantage of cheap raw materials unlocked by fracking, said the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association, an industry group based in Dubai.

"As the economy of the Middle East is so closely tied to the oil and gas industry, any global trends associated with it - be it here, or on the other side of the world - cannot be ignored," said Abdulwahab Al Sadoun, the secretary general of the group.

"With the rapid development of shale gas, it is vital that Middle East fertilizers evolve."

The latest warning shows how the effects of North America's shale boom, all but unforeseen five years ago, are trickling down to areas from gas exports to petrochemical developments to nuclear power plants.

As the unexpected availability of cheap fuel in the United States and Canada powers an industrial renaissance, it is also reshaping trade flows.

Gulf investors are putting money into downstream developments far from home, as Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Company has at Ontario's ageing petrochemical plants.

The US, long a net importer of gas, is converting LNG import terminals for export, and is soon to supply the UK's Centrica alongside Qatar.

Within two decades the US could overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer, predicts the International Energy Agency.

"The North American shale gas revolution will give local chemical companies access to cheaper raw materials like nitrogen and sulphur - key components in fertilizers," Mr Sadoun said. "Fertilizer producers in the GCC may lose ground in an important export market if this happens."

For now the region is racing to increase production capacity.

New oil and gas supplies in the GCC last year fuelled an increase in the region's fertilizer production of 10 per cent, compared with worldwide growth of 2.2 per cent.

In three years, capacity is projected to grow to 50.4 million tonnes from today's 31.4 million.

 

ayee@thenational.ae