A PETROCHEMICALS firm is embarking on a major plant conversion it says will secure more than a thousand jobs.

Sabic UK, which employs about 600 staff on Teesside, is changing its Olefins cracker to take US shale gas.

The business, which first revealed the plans two years ago, says the gas will be cheaper than the naphtha fuel its uses at present, and will strengthen its market position when the oil price rises again.

The company is one of the world’s largest makers of chemicals, fertilizers and plastics and has operations at Wilton, near Redcar, which include the Olefins cracker.

The cracker, also known as Olefins 6, was built by ICI in 1979, and supplies products used in plastic bottles, CDs and tyres by taking feedstocks and cracking apart components.

John Bruijnooge, the firm’s Teesside site director, also revealed work is now underway to build a cryogenic tank at Sabic’s North Tees site, between Port Clarence and Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, which makes parts for medicines, sports equipment and computers, for its gas project.

The company was previously forced to reveal plans to cut hundreds jobs in a bid to save £10m a year and stave off what it described as a “perfect storm” of the European recession and increased competition.

However, Mr Bruijnooge, who is based at Sabic’s manufacturing headquarters in the Wilton Centre, said it was now looking to the future with greater positivity.

He said: “After a series of years of restructuring and downsizing, we are now re-investing to secure the long-term life of assets.

“With our new shale gas feedstock, we will be well positioned to face competition when the oil price rises again.”

He added the plans will also provide a boost for the 400 contractors the business employs at Wilton and North Tees.

The 49-year-old former maintenance productivity engineer, who is from the Netherlands, joined Sabic in 1996 and moved through the ranks before being appointed a director at the company’s Beijing operations in 2013.

He added: “Sabic is recognised as a leading employer in the Teesside area and I’m delighted to be heading up a team that has a reputation for innovation and industrial excellence.”

Sabic's North-East operations also include a low density polyethylene plant, which supplies customers across Europe with materials for plastic packaging for food and electrical goods.

New SABIC Site Director John Bruijnooge says upgrade work to the firm’s Olefins Cracker at Wilton will secure the company’s future on Teesside.