By KATE GALBRAITH July 14, 2012
FREEPORT, Tex. — The largest chemical complex in the Western Hemisphere resembles a city of pipes and stacks. And Dow Chemical, its owner, is spending more than $4 billion to make it even larger.
“In terms of dollars, this is the biggest expansion since we built the place,” said Earl Shipp, vice president for Dow’s Texas operations, who works out of the vast Freeport facility that dates to 1940.
More Texas chemical plants — a dozen, at least — are also moving forward with new projects. The hydraulic fracturing technology that sparked a drilling frenzy around Texas and the nation has proved a boon for the petrochemical industry, which is converting cheap and abundant natural gas into resins and polymers that go into items like synthetic clothing and cellphones. Experts say this represents the largest petrochemical expansion in Texas since the days of cheap oil in the 1980s.
But the growth comes amid concerns about future shortages of water and electric power statewide, as well as worries about the industry’s impact on air pollution in the Houston area.
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