Refinery capacity sets record

July 8, 2019

Atmospheric crude oil distillation operable capacity in the US set a record at 18.8 million b/cd from Jan. 1, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2019. This is an increase of 1.1%, according to US Energy Information Administration’s annual Refinery Capacity Report.

The highest past record was Jan. 1, 1981, when operable capacity reached 18.6 million b/cd. This was a small increase over data recorded for Jan. 1, 2018.

EIA states that operable crude distillation unit (CDU) capacity, both idle and operating capacity, have shown small increases over the past 6-7 years.

Refinery capacity is measured using two methods, EIA says—barrels per calendar day and barrels per stream day, or b/sd. Stream-day capacity, “reflects the maximum number of barrels of input that a distillation facility can process within a 24-hr period when running at full capacity under optimal crude oil and product slate conditions with no allowance for downtime. Stream-day capacity is typically about 6% higher than calendar-day capacity.”

Calendar-day capacity is what the input of the CDU can process in a 24-hr period under normal working conditions, taken into account any planned or unplanned maintenance.

From Jan. 1, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2019, the number of US operable refineries remained at 135. Tesoro Refining & Marketing’s Carson and Wilmington refineries (now Marathon Petroleum Corp.) collectively report as one unit, along with Par Hawaii and Island Energy Services’ refinery in Kapolei, Ha.

During this year’s first quarter, a new condensate splitter began operations in Channelview, Tex.

With the acquisition of Andeavor’s 10 US refineries in 2018, Marathon Petroleum became the largest US refiner with an operable CDU capacity of more than 3 million b/cd. Valero Energy Corp. held the previous title with 2.2 million b/cd CDU capacity, 800,000 b/cd less than Marathon.

Gross input

Refinery runs, or gross input, to refineries have illustrated records for 2018 averaging 17 million b/d, up 18.9% over crude oil inputs of 14.3 million b/d in 2009. Crude oil production also recorded new volumes in 2018 with the US averaging 11 million b/d, more than doubling volumes set in 2009.

In that same time period, utilization rates climbed from 83% in 2009 to 93% in 2018 with operable refinery CDU capacity rising by 1.2 million b/cd, and a 2.6 million b/d increase in crude oil inputs.

US crude oil exports rose 2 million b/d and imports went down by 1.3 million b/d during the same timeframe.

Quality of crude

Over the past decade the quality of the crude oil inputs into US refineries has changed. With the increase in US crude oil production, the crude has also become lighter. US refiners are replacing the formerly imported crude oil inputs with domestically produced crude oil which has led to an increase in API gravity. The higher the API gravity the lower the density. Refineries along the Gulf Coast, where about half of all US refining capacity is located, averaged weighted API gravity of 33.4° in this year’s first quarter, up from 29.6° in 2009.

Refineries in the Gulf Coast region imported 68% of crude oil inputs in 2009, down to 31% in this year’s first quarter.

EIA’s Refinery Capacity Report forecasts that US refining capacity will not increase considerably in 2019. “Further investment in US refinery expansion projects depends on expectations about crude oil and petroleum product price spreads, the characteristics of the crude oils being produced, product specifications, and the relative economic advantage of the US refining fleet compared with refineries in the rest of the world.”