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Editorial comment

Money may make the world go round, but petrochemicals are arguably the lifeblood of modern society. As a global population, few of us realise the integral role that petrochemicals play in our everyday lives. Starting life as chemical compounds – derived predominantly from oil and natural gas, but also from coal or other sources – petrochemicals are sold to customer industries, where they are tweaked, altered and transformed, finishing their journey in countless (and extremely wide ranging) products, many of which seem to bear no relation to the initial raw material. From the household items we use, to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, to the computers we work on, the packaging our food is contained in, to the medicines we take, petrochemicals are everywhere, every day.

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And, having just returned from the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers’ (AFPM) 114th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, I am pleased to say that the outlook for these infinitely versatile chemical products – certainly within the US – looks bright.

Much to the delight of US petrochemical producers, the recent fall in natural gas prices, combined with abundant supplies, has provided a profound boost to the sector. Manufacturers are moving to expand existing facilities, as well as construct new, state of the art plants, which has, in turn, enhanced domestic production capacity. As noted in the AFPM’s 2016 Annual Report, more than 250 US petrochemical projects have been announced, with investments averaging some US$11 billion/y.

With a revitalised industry environment, and domestic production on the up, players within the petrochemical industry have plenty to smile about. However, these positive effects reach further than the confines of the sector itself.

Strong refining and petrochemical industries mean new and exciting job opportunities, as well as greater tax revenues, which support such crucial economic pillars as education, transportation and environmental programmes. According to the AFPM report, the US refining and petrochemical industries support more than 3.1 million direct and indirect jobs, many of which require highly skilled workers. Furthermore, the industries’ success stimulates additional jobs in sectors such as restaurant, retail, trucking and hospitality.

While there will be challenges ahead (as is always the case in our industry), the future is surely one to look forward to. This year's Annual Meeting conference programme was bursting with insights, presentations and papers, covering such topics as petrochemicals, hydroprocessing, gasoline processes, resid conversion, workforce development, process safety, strategic issues, operations and turnarounds, environment, reliability, crude oil supply, margin improvement, regulatory issues and automation – this can only be an encouraging sign.

For a more complete picture of today's dynamic petrochemical industry, be sure to catch Euro Petroleum Consultants’ report on the European and Russian markets (page 12), as well as AspenTech’s insight into the global ethylene sector (page 19). And, as always, if you have a story, a project, or a new technology to talk about, please get in touch.