Plans for mega refinery shape up

17 March 2006

The Petroleum Ministry is drawing up plans to build a $9,500 million integrated refinery-cum-petrochemicals complex on the Mediterranean coast. The greenfield project, for which consultancy firms Jacobs Consultancy of the US and Nexant of the UK have been appointed to carry out feasibility studies, will be the single largest hydrocarbons investment in the country and - together with the Rabigh integrated complex being developed by a joint venture of Saudi Aramco and Japan's Sumitomo Chemical Corporation in Saudi Arabia - the only project of its kind and size in the region.

Under a highly ambitious timeframe, the complex is due to come on stream within five-six years, Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy said at the Egypt: A Commitment to Reform conference organised by Euromoney Conferences in London on 14 March. The project's refinery element will cover a 350,000-barrel-a-day (b/d) facility designed to meet all European and US specifications. It will produce diesel, jet gasoline and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) among other products for the export and local markets.

The integrated petrochemicals complex will feature a world-scale ethane cracker with capacity to produce 1.6 million tonnes a year (t/y) of ethylene. It is also set to produce ethylene-based derivatives and a total of 1.2 million t/y of propylene and polypropylene (PP), 1.5 million t/y of paraxylene as well as styrene and polystyrene among other products.

Two locations in northern Egypt with key infrastructure already in place are under consideration for the complex, but a decision on where it will ultimately be built is still to be made. Feedstock is set to be provided in the form of crude oil and ethane.

UK-based Astra Horizons is advising the government on the project. Presentations to top government officials including President Mubarak were held in late February and March, and have been approved, according to a source close to the project.

Jacobs and Nexant will complete the project's feasibility study within six months, which will be followed by another study, the source says. A project management consultant (PMC) is planned to be appointed in the first quarter of 2007.

The ministry still has to decide on how it will finance the complex. However, the source says that preliminary talks are being held with several firms including international oil companies (IOCs), Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) and India's Tata Group about taking possible equity positions.

The project does not come under the domestic petrochemicals masterplan, the first phase of which is due to be completed in 2009, raising questions about an already-tight feedstock situation.

Integrated refining and petrochemicals projects are aimed at taking advantage of the synergies between the two elements and reducing costs, increasing efficiency and widening the product slate.

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