The U.S. soda ash industry consisted of several synthetic soda ash plants situated primarily in the South and East and natural soda ash operations located in the West. Most of domestic soda ash consumption was centered in the Midwest and East, providing the synthetic producers a geographic advantage over their natural competitors. The Arab oil embargo in 1973 and the enforcement of environmental legislation to reduce pollution caused the closure of all but one synthetic facility by 1979. Higher energy costs contributed to a higher selling price for synthetic soda ash. The energy crisis did not affect the natural soda ash industry as much, which permitted those producers to sell at below synthetic soda ash price levels.
In the 1980's, U.S. soda ash consumption was affected by the competition of glass containers with plastic, especially polyethylene terephthalate, and the increased use of cullet. Excess production capacity and stagnant domestic consumption contributed to a drop in the soda ash value for most of the decade. Soda ash exports began to increase with the formation of an industry export association. Most of the exports were to China and to several other developing nations that had expanding glass, chemical, and detergent industries.
Although the United States had become a major supplier of soda ash to the world, certain foreign investors regarded U.S. soda ash to be a stable business to be involved in. Worldwide concern regarding the environment prompted the shutdowns of a few synthetic soda ash plants that caused pollution. Trade barriers with certain countries were reduced or eliminated, thereby providing an opportunity for additional future U.S. soda ash exports.
- Table 1.--Salient soda ash statistics
- Table 2.--U.S. imports for consumption of soda ash
- Table 3.--U.S. Exports of soda ash
- Table 4.--Soda ash supply-demand relationships
- Table 5.--Time-value relationships for soda ash
- Table 6.--World soda ash production