U.S. railroads defend rates, Dow settles dioxin dispute, LyondellBasell advances PO/TBA plant

The U.S. railroad association said it is "unlawful" for the congressionally appointed STB to propose pricing changes long awaited by the chemical industry.

Photo credit: Pixabay/Michael Gaida

U.S. railroads association defends rates

The Association of American Railroads on Nov. 12 called “unlawful” the attempts by the congressionally appointed Surface Transportation Board (STB) for pricing changes to improve railway rates.

The agency exceeded its authority, the rail group’s president Ian Jefferies said. The association is asking the STB to withdraw the proposals.

“The Board’s proposed rule represents a radical departure from the market-based, economic principles that have traditionally guided the Board’s maximum rate determinations,” the association added. 

The American Chemistry Council’s President & CEO Cal Dooley praised in mid-September the STB for a “commitment to getting our nation’s freight rail policies back on track.”

“Chemical manufacturers across the country have been negatively impacted by excessive freight rail charges and lack of competitive rail service for too long,” Dooley said at the time.

The STB is an economic regulatory agency charged by Congress with solving railroad rate and service disputes. It also oversees some trucking, ocean shipping, intercity buses and some pipelines.

Railway traffic slows in U.S., Canada

U.S. weekly rail traffic for the first full week of November was 515,269 carloads and intermodal units, down 5.9% from last year, the Association of American Railroads said Nov. 13.

Carloads for the week were down 5.1% from last year to 248,905. Weekly intermodal volume was 266,364 containers and trailers, down 6.7% from 2018. Declines included lower crude oil and products shipped.

Canadian railroads reported 83,174 carloads for the week, down 5.5%, and 68,361 intermodal units, down 5.9% from a year earlier.

Mexican railroads reported 20,097 carloads for the week, up 2.8% from the same week last year, and 17,987 intermodal units, down 5.5%.

Dow, three Mid-Michigan counties settle dispute

The U.S. Department of Justice said on Nov. 8 that Dow Chemical agreed to pay $77 million to compensate for dioxin pollution from a plant in Michigan.

The proposed settlement reached the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for review. It is also subject to public comment.

Dow, which caused dioxin and other chemicals pollution affecting three counties in Michigan, will pay $6.8 million to fund five other restoration projects and give another $15 million for various purposes, it said.

LyondellBasell advances work on world’s biggest PO/TBA plant

LyondellBasell said on Nov. 12 it is advancing construction on what will become the world’s largest propylene oxide(PO), tertiary butyl alcohol (TBA) production facility.

A distillation tower, the tallest piece of equipment to be installed in the complex, was recently delivered, it said.

Dan Coombs, LyondellBasell’s executive vice president for global manufacturing and projects, said the plant will be online in 2021, about three years after construction started, as planned.

The $2.4-billion facility in Channelview, in the east of the greater Houston area, will produce annually 470,000 tonnes of PO and 1 million tonne of TBA.

Construction of an associated ethers unit, which will convert TBA to oxyfuels, is underway in Pasadena, in the south of Houston. LyondellBasell projects $400-450 million in earnings each year from this project and has also been active with other projects.

Braskem says earnings flat, cites global downturn

Brazilian chemical maker Braskem said on Nov. 14 its third quarter earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) were the equivalent of $389 million, similar to the preceding quarter.

Braskem said it sees a declining cycle in the global economy affecting the global chemical industry.

"We’re focused on doing our part to go through this moment of the cycle,” Braskem’s President Fernando Musa said.

The company issued in October nearly $2.3 billion in debt, with $1.5 billion maturing in a decade and the rest in 30 years. It was the company’s biggest bond sale ever.

Mexican government says won’t pay Pemex hackers

The State Attorney Office of Mexico said on November 14 that it investigates an alleged blackmail and hacking of the information system of state oil company and petrochemical manufacturer Pemex.

Government officials had said days earlier that hackers wanted a $5-million ransom payment but that their demands –with some reports specifying an end-November deadline- would not be met.

Mexican chemical assets that could be exposed include Cangrejera, Coatzacoalcos, for ethylene products; Cosoleacaque, in Veracruz, for fertilizers; Independencia, along the Mexico-Puebla highway, for methanol; Escolin, Veracruz, for ethylene products; Tula, Hidalgo, for acylotrinyl; and Pajaritos, Coatzacoalcos, for ethylene products.

Pemex petrochemical subsidiary is also facing some mechanical difficulties at some plants, Mexican press has separately reported.

A Nov. 5 report by Mexican’ newspaper Expansion cited a government audit that it said showed some of those chemical plants face chronic operational problems.

An acylonitril unit hasn’t operated for three years while another unit to produce propylene hasn’t run for two decades, the newspaper said. Feedstock shortages have been a recurrent problem, it said.

American Chemical Society picks favorite startups

Chemical & Engineering News, published by the American Chemical Society, presented on Nov. 11 its annual list of 10 chemistry startups to watch.

The list included Polystyvert, which recycles polystyrene and Syzygi Plasmonics, which works on photocatalysts for separating gases such as hydrogen from methane.

Hyatt to cut down on single-use plastic in 875 hotels

Hyatt Hotels Corp. said on Nov. 12 it plans to cut down on plastic waste at all its 875 Hyatt hotels globally. Changes will target water bottles and bathroom amenities, and be fully implemented globally by June 2021.

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