ANGLETON — During his opening prayer, Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta acknowledged industry is what moves the county forward. The luncheon program that followed offered insight from four guest speakers into each of their companies and how business is going.
Representatives of four companies shared their insights into the broader state of their industries and their roles in the Brazoria County economy during Tuesday’s quarterly membership meeting of the Economic Development Alliance for Brazoria County.
Each offered positive outlooks as the consequences of the pandemic begin to recede around the globe, prompting companies to look at plant expansions and other methods of growth as well as how to better provide services to their customers.
Chevron Phillips Chemical was born 21 years ago as a joint venture between Phillips 66 and Chevron, Sweeny/Old Ocean Plant Manager Dirk Perrin
Early on, the company’s strategy was “fix it or exit,” and many assets were shut down or sold, but soon after the company began growing, he said. For the past seven or eight years, Chevron Phillips’ growth has been focused in Texas along the Gulf Coast, he said.
Chevron Phillips’ business model is turning low-value light hydrocarbon ethane, propane and butane into higher value products, he said. Chevron Phillips is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of high-density polyethylene — the most common plastic there is, he said.
“We’re making 2.2 billion pounds (of polyethylene) a year. … Now we have more than $17 billion in assets across the world and more than 5,000 employees across 31 sites,” Perrin said. “We continue to grow and we’re never afraid of a challenge.”
With plastic demand increasing, so are sales of 1-hexene, one of the key components in manufacturing polyethylene and plastic, Perrin said.
To meet that demand, Chevron Phillips is building a new plant unit in Old Ocean to increase production of alpha olefins and to create pure 1-hexene from ethylene. The company broke ground on the new site in May.
“Our new site will have a capacity of 266 kilotons a year, which will bring our total worldwide capacity to over 650 kilotons per year,” Perrin said.
Startup is planned for the third quarter of 2023, and the plant will provide 50 to 55 full-time jobs, he said.
Chevron Philips’ core value and highest priority is safety, Perrin said.
Since 2002, the company has reduced its combined employee and contractor incidence rate by 82 percent, he said.
“Last year was our best ever performance,” Perrin said.
Safety is also a foremost priority for INEOS Olefins & Polymers, said Cathy Culpepper, site director for INEOS’ Chocolate Bayou plant.
“It’s not an objective or a goal, it’s a right to operate — it’s something we take very, very seriously,” Culpepper said of safety.
In the previous year, the site’s incident injury rate per 200,000 hours was about 0.17, though she believes it was closer to 0.11, she said.
“We worked 9 million man hours at our site last year,” Culpepper said.
The Chocolate Bayou plant was one of the few sites that continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Culpepper said.
“When I talked to the board about it, I was certainly an advocate of continuing with the project,” she said. “I said, ‘We’re in the business of managing risk. We do that every day. If we can’t do this and manage COVID, what are we doing right now at a chemical plant?’”
It was challenging, but they managed, with few COVID-19 cases and none that were serious, she said.
INEOS is “one of the weirdest” companies in the world in terms of structure, Culpepper said.
INEOS is privately owned, and it was the owner’s ambition to buy a company he thought was poorly run and turn the business around, so that’s been the growth model over the years, she said.
“It’s kind of like the United States,” she said. “INEOS is the federal government and all the sites operate as independent states.”
The company has 194 manufacturing sites across 29 countries, and 26,000 employees, she said.
“Even those of us within INEOS have trouble sometimes making the connection to all the businesses,” she said. “Lots and lots of activities going on.”
In addition to the building block chemicals, those activities include consumer brands and sports interests, INEOS’ website states. When the pandemic came, company founder and chairman Jim Ratcliffe wanted to provide sanitizer to those in need of it, so the company diversified into hygienics, Culpepper said.
Additionally, INEOS is now in the car business — Ratcliffe, “being the consummate Brit that he is,” was disturbed to hear one of his favorite vehicles, the (Land Rover) Defender, was no longer going to be manufactured, she said.
“He approached them about getting the intellectual property to build the Defender in the UK and they wouldn’t sell him the properties,” she said. “He said, ‘Not a problem; I’m going to design my own.’”
INEOS’ Chocolate Bayou site has roughly 4,000 acres, 575 employees and 350 contractors, Culpepper said.
“In a typical year we make 4.5 billion pounds of ethylene,” she said. “We’re kind of glad to take a reprieve from the year we had last year, but we’ve got lots and lots coming in front of us as well.”
CenterPoint is in the business of delivering energy, Senior Transmissions Account Consultant Timothy Raines shared during Tuesday’s luncheon.
“We deliver natural gas to 4.5 million customers across eight states,” he said. “On the electric side, we maintain the wires, poles and transmission and distribution systems that distribute power to 2.6 million metered customers in the greater Houston and surrounding area.”
CenterPoint is appropriately named because the business is in the middle of generation and getting power to homes, Raines said.
“This has been in place for 2002 and this is today and it’s likely to be this way for some time,” he said. “At the top the power generating companies, and in the middle, all the TDSPs and basically also ERCOT in the middle, and on the bottom, the end users which are being billed by competitive retailers.”
Competitive retailers purchase power from power generators and sell it to the users, he said.
“In the middle, CenterPoint Energy — we’re just getting that power from the generator to the consumer,” he said.
ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, manages the flow of power to 26 million Texas customers and the 46,500 miles of transmission lines, and more than 710 power generation units, he said. ERCOT facilitates generation interconnections and follows its own planning guide; for CenterPoint to follow the same guide, it takes a year for the company to perform an interconnection study, Raines said.
Prior to 2017, the amount of power generation was balanced with the need for it, Raines said.
Since then, there’s been a shift toward renewable energy.
On Feb. 28, 2017, Raines received a request for a 120-megawatt solar project in Brazoria County, he said. The project took a year to study and a year and a half to interconnect the project, and it came online April 17, 2020, according to Raines’ presentation.
“That is 1,235,000 individual solar panels that make the 120 megawatts of solar,” he said.
Battery energy storage facilities are the next big thing, Raines said.
“It’s a liquid form and it’s roughly acid and it’s under some kind of a membrane,” he said. “There’s a lot of different types of batteries out there and they’re not all batteries. Storage doesn’t have to be a battery; storage could be compressed air in the ground. There are different ideas to store energy.”
There are different types ERCOT looks at, he said.
“Roughly, how many megawatts does it take to run the ERCOT grid guaranteed? Worst-case scenario?” Raines said. “Seventy-six thousand megawatts. They’re studying 91,000 megawatts of solar. They’re studying 23,000 megawatts of wind and 32,000 megawatts of batteries.”
“Easily” nine out of 10 such projects are successful, he said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work everywhere in CenterPoint’s territory and there’s a high concentration right here in Brazoria County,” Raines said.
Brazoria County has seen a concentration of COVID-19 cases throughout the county over the past 16 months, and David Wagner, chief executive officer of HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland, shared some information regarding the healthcare provider and the virus.
“Every week we would learn something new about the COVID virus and how it transmits and how we needed to take care of it,” he said. “It was almost like a really bad disaster drill … every day, every week we were adapting to what we were learning.”
As an enterprise, the Hospital Corporation of America is a national company, with 186 hospitals across the nation and in the United Kingdom, and more than 2,000 sites of care in 20 states, Wagner said.
There are 16 hospitals in the Gulf Coast division, of which 13 are in the Houston market and cater to more than 1.2 million patients each year, he said.
Within the Gulf Coast area, COVID-19 case numbers have risen from 185 hospital admissions July 17 to 263 on July 21, he said.
The Pearland facility, which opened in 2015, provides a variety of services, including emergency, cardiovascular, imaging and surgical, and is licensed for 53 beds, according to Wagner’s presentation.
“Since opening we’ve expanded our bed capacity and submitted a proposal to expand again since we’ve been in excess of 100 percent of our occupancy now for 18 months,” Wagner said.
The vast majority of the elderly population got vaccinated, Wagner said.
“But the youth did not,” he said. “Age groups 20-34, 35-54, you can see that’s where the vast majority of the admissions into the hospitals are coming. It’s unvaccinated individuals: 99 percent of what you see hospitalized today are people that chose not to get the vaccination, or only got one of the two vaccine (shots).”
HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland is designated as a Level 4 trauma center, which is the lowest designation, but it does mean they have the capability of stabilizing a patient before transferring them to another hospital that can provide a higher level of care, Wagner said. The Pearland facility services an area which extends to Angleton and Lake Jackson, toward Webster and Clear Lake, and toward Sugar Land in Fort Bend County, he said.
“We’re continuing to look to see how we can provide services in that in-between area,” he said.
The company also places a high value on education and is developing a center for clinical advancement, which will be a 48,000-square-foot facility and will offer a program to test and polish healthcare providers’ skills before they actually reach the bedside, Wagner said.
“We’re opening this at a time when after the pandemic of last year most of those student programs that allow them to do clinicals in the hospital, they were forbidden from coming into the hospital for obvious reasons,” Wagner said.
The center has been open for about a month, he said.
“We are looking — once we get down the road a little bit — into how we might use this to assist with EMS programs or other training programs, support groups, those sorts of things that tie into the mission of health care,” Wagner said.