BP to keep Charleston plant, sell Alabama site

The BP Cooper River plant is on a 6,000-acre tract of forestland between the Cooper River and Cainhoy Road.

BP didn’t leave itself much choice after it decided to jettison one of its U.S. petrochemical plants: Alabama or South Carolina.

Palmetto State officials would say it chose wisely.

The British-owned energy giant said last week it is seeking a buyer for its 400-worker Decatur, Ala., manufacturing site. The proposed sale is “part of a broader reorganization of the company’s global petrochemicals business,” BP said in a statement. The upshot is that the Cooper River plant has cemented a secure future within the company.

BP announced a year ago it is spending $200 million to upgrade the Berkeley County site and its sister facility in Belgium. Both produce a raw material called purified terephthalic acid, or PTA. The white powdery substance is used to make polyester, plastic bottles, tires and other consumer products.

“The investment will enable the two facilities to lower operating costs, improve reliability and reduce emissions,” the company said last week.

Earlier this year, BP also expanded a plant in China that can churn out 1.25 million tons of PTA annually.

“We look to have a portfolio with BP’s world-leading technology resulting in highly efficient production of PTA in key markets around the world,” said Tufan Erginbilgic, head of BP’s global downstream business.

The company’s S.C. manufacturing site was opened in 1978 by Amoco, which was bought by British Petroleum in early 1999. It takes up about 500 acres of a 6,000-acre tract of forest-land between the Cooper River and Cainhoy Road. The last major expansion was done in 1997, when a $300 million man- ufacturing unit came online.

The Alabama plant makes PTA and two other chemicals.

“The decision to explore a sale of this facility was not taken lightly. It has been a signif- icant part of our company and of the Decatur community for a very long time,” said Rita Griffin, COO of BP Global Petrochemicals.

The company said it is “determined to find a buyer who will recognize its value and keep it a viable and vibrant part of the region for years to come.”

Boeing Co. is dropping GKN Aviation as supplier for a 737 MAX engine part. So the question becomes whether that decision will affect GKN’s plans to build a plant in Orangeburg.

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The short answer is no, the U.K.-based company said.

Boeing is seeking another sup- plier for the inner walls of the thrust reverser on the fourth-generation model of its 737 plane. That part wasn’t set for production in Orangeburg, GKN’s Sandra Fearon said.

“This is just one component and does not impact anything else,” Fearon said.

GKN will remain as engineer and supplier of other 737 MAX components, including winglets and window frames. The 126,000-square-foot Orange- burg site will make “inlet lip skins,” round metal encircling the front of an engine nacelle, for those planes by late 2016.

The Midlands GKN facility will create 75 jobs. It will be next to the company’s existing plant.