Ecopetrol’s Cartagena refinery revamp still under way

State-owned Ecopetrol SA said work related to an ongoing expansion and modernization project at its refining subsidiary’s Refineria de Cartagena SA’s (Reficar) 80,000-b/d refinery in Cartagena, Colombia, led to lower output during this year’s first quarter.

Crude oil throughputs at the refinery for the first quarter decreased to 42,300 b/d compared with 75,700 b/d during first-quarter 2013, the company said.

The slash in throughputs resulted from a scheduled shutdown of the refinery’s crude unit that began in March to carry out work associated with the modernization project, the company said.

In addition to the March shuttering of the crude unit, scheduled shutdowns of the plant’s cracking and viscosity reduction units in January and February also contributed to a reduction in refinery utilization, which fell to 21.6% for this year’s first quarter from 80.5% during the same quarter in 2013, Ecopetrol said.

The refinery’s gross refining margin during the first quarter was down by 20% compared with first-quarter 2013 amid lower yields of higher-value products such as diesel and gasoline, the company said.

As of Mar. 31, the expansion and modernization project at Cartagena, which will raise the refinery’s capacity to 165,000 b/d from 80,000 b/d and also improve the fuel quality to meet Colombian and international environmental specifications (OGJ Online, Apr. 5, 2010; Dec. 30, 2009), was 88.9% complete, Ecopetrol said.

In contrast to Cartagena, Ecopetrol said throughputs, utilization, and gross refining margins at the company’s 250,000-b/d Barrancabermeja refinery in Santander, Colombia, improved during this year’s first quarter vs. the same period in 2013 alongside increased availability and operational stability of units at the plant as well as steeper drops in pricing for crude than for petroleum products.

A modernization project at Barrancabermeja designed to increase the refinery’s crude oil processing capacity to 300,000 b/d (OGJ Online, July 2, 2012; Aug. 9, 2011), was 18.4% complete by the end of this year’s first quarter, while the separate Industrial Services Master Plan (ISMP) at the site had reached 86% completion, said Ecopetrol.

While construction continues on a cogeneration unit that comes as part of the ISMP, Ecopetrol said it expects the unit to be operational by first-quarter 2015.

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