2009It doesn’t look like 2009 is going to be a happy new year for the chemicals sector.

LyondellBasell Industries, the world’s third-largest independent chemicals company, has told lenders it is considering filing for bankruptcy protection amid plunging sales and a cash crunch, the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

The company is one of several in the sector facing one of the worst slumps ever in chemical demand. The industry has been battered by high price tags on crude oil and natural gas, which are key components of plastics and other chemicals.  Energy prices have plunged in recent months, but demand has also been hurt by recessions in most developed countries and a sharp slowdown in emerging economies.

Profits of U.S. chemical makers, in recent quarters, have been buoyed by strong demand from developing economies but the global financil crisis is hurting international results now. And Wall Street has trimmed its 2009 expectations for the sector, expecting weaker demand next year.

LyondellBasell, which is based in the Netherlands and has large U.S. operations, has hired bankruptcy counsel and told lenders it is trying to line up as much as $2 billion in bankruptcy financing, these people say. A Chapter 11 filing may be imminent, the report said.