Exxon Mobil and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) have formed a joint venture as part of their plans to build the roughly $7.3-billion Gulf Coast Growth Ventures project, a 1.8-million-ton ethane cracker proposed for San Patricio County, Texas. The project will include a monoethylene glycol unit and two polyethylene units.

The companies have signed engineering, procurement and construction contracts with a Chiyoda-Kiewit joint venture and CTCI McDermott, SABIC said in a May 1 filing with the Saudi Stock Exchange.

Initial engineering and construction is expected to start in the second quarter of this year and finish during the fourth quarter of 2021. SABIC said Gulf Coast Growth Ventures is slated to begin operating during the first half of 2022.

Exxon Mobil and SABIC expect to make a decision on whether they will move ahead with the project after they receive required air and wastewater permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. They applied for the permits in April 2017. The permit review process takes about a year to complete, according to the companies.

SABIC said the project reflects the company's strategy to diversify geographically to reach new markets and enable the company to gain access to competitive feedstock.

In part, the project is driven by the availability of low-cost natural gas in the U.S., according to Exxon Mobil and SABIC.

The companies expect the project, first announced in 2016, will require about 6,000 construction workers at its peak.