Shale Gas The New Gold Rush: Benefits and Risks of the US Shale Gas Boom?

Author / Editor: Anke Geipel-Kern / Dominik Stephan

The scale of US shale gas reserves is conjuring up scenarios that seemed unimaginable just a short time ago. Ammonia plants and crackers are now under construction in a country where the chemical industry appeared to be in terminal decline. Gold fever is currently gripping the plant engineering industry, and everyone wants to be first in line...

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Hydraulisches Fracking im Barnett Shale in Texas
Hydraulisches Fracking im Barnett Shale in Texas
(Bild: American Gas Association)

Euphoria has recently taken on a new name in the boardrooms in the European plant engineering industry. Unconventional natural gas in the form of shale gas, treasure from the deep, is generating a wave of collective enthusiasm. There is talk at Uhde and Linde of a paradigm change. At $2–$3 per million BTU, US natural gas is available at an unbeatable price. Investment projects that previously appeared dead and buried have now become feasible again. The American fertilizer industry is one example. Seeing an opportunity to regain its former prominence, the US chemical industry is planning to put cracker capacity in place which has the potential to shake up the world market and upset the equilibrium in the chemical industry.

Shale Gas Revolution: The Initial Wave

Dr. Michael Thiemann, member of the Executive Board at ThyssenKrupp Uhde, believes that the shale revolution is a phenomenon that will roll at us in three waves. Producing fertilizer from shale gas is not particularly challenging from the technical standpoint. Along with power generation, fertilizer production will be a factor in the first wave of shale gas exploration. Companies which acquire projects at this stage will also be in a position to ride the second and third waves and establish a long-term presence in the markets as they evolve.

The Deck is Reshuffled for US Market

Uhde and Linde have already lined up contracts. The deck is currently being completely reshuffled in the US market. The European plant engineering industry now finally has an opportunity to force a breach into the phalanx of Foster Wheeler, Technip and other US companies. A contract acquired by Uhde in October followed by another at the beginning of November is one example.

Fertilizer producer CF Industries has expansion plans for its plants in Donaldsonville and Port Neal in the breadbasket of Western Iowa and will be increasing its urea, ammonia, UAN and nitric acid capacity. The two projects are valued at $3.8 billion and include basic engineering, procurement, supply and service delivery during construction and commissioning. And that's only the beginning...