With its focus on developing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry over the past 20 years, Doha has neglected its petrochemicals industry and is lagging behind its Gulf neigbours. Despite having signed initial agreements with international oil companies (IOCs) in the mid-2000s to build three crackers, to date none of the schemes have been built. Whereas Saudi Arabia has nearly 15 million tonnes of ethylene capacity installed, Qatar produces less than 3 million tonnes a year (t/y).

The many billions of dollars invested in building LNG trains, terminals and transporters have given Qatar a dominant position in global gas markets and long-term supply deals will guarantee Doha sizeable revenues for decades to come. But in shipping its gas around the world, Qatar is exporting its raw resources for others to process into other products. It is missing out in adding value to its gas reserves itself through the manufacturing of petrochemicals that can be sold at a far higher price.

The imposition of a moratorium on further development on the North Field is a key cause of the delays in developing petrochemicals projects. International oil companies remain eager to work in the country however, and have responded by proposing mixed-feed crackers that make use of alternative feedstocks available. Even so, the projects have so far failed to advance beyond the drawing board. An agreement signed between Qatar Petroleum and the UK/Dutch Shell Group in December shows Doha wants to get things moving, but agreements will not be enough.

Having reached its 77 million t/y target for LNG production at the end of last year, now is the time for Doha to switch its focus to the petrochemicals sector and make up for lost time.