Last Updated: Sat Jun 23, 2012 16:30 pm (KSA) 13:30 pm (GMT)

Motiva Texas refinery unit shut down for ‘several months’

Motiva’s Port Arthur, Texas refinery is preparing to keep its new crude oil unit shut for several months due to corrosion problems. (File photo)
Motiva’s Port Arthur, Texas refinery is preparing to keep its new crude oil unit shut for several months due to corrosion problems. (File photo)

Motiva Enterprises LLC is preparing to keep its new crude oil unit shut for “several months” as it investigates major corrosion problems that have crippled the country’s biggest refinery weeks after a massive expansion.

In the first public acknowledgment of a potentially long-term outage at the Port Arthur, Texas, plant, Motiva co-owner Royal Dutch Shell Plc confirmed the 325,000-barrel-per- day (bpd) unit was shut due to “corrosion problems,” as originally reported earlier this week by Reuters.

“The outage of the new crude unit may continue for several months, while the causes of the issue are established and rectified,” Shell said in a statement late Wednesday.

Shell said all secondary units built as part of the five-year, $10 billion project were fully operational, although some were running at reduced throughput.

On Thursday, an industry source said Saudi Arabia halted crude shipments to the new unit until at least mid-July. State oil firm Saudi Aramco, the other co-owner of the plant, had ramped up supplies to the plant this year to feed the new unit, the cornerstone of its five-year, $10 billion (6.41 billion pounds) expansion.

Aramco would evaluate restarting shipments after that depending on the status of the refinery.

Sources said the new crude distillation unit, which began production in April and was shut following a June 9 fire, may be idle for up to a year to repair extensive corrosion found in the unit -- up from initial estimates of two to five months.

But sources familiar with operations said one of the new units -- a catalytic feed hydrotreater that removes sulphur from feedstock going to the refinery’s gasoline-producing fluidic catalytic cracking unit -- would but shut down this week because of a lack of feedstock from the idled crude unit.

The sources also said Motiva was shutting an older catalytic reformer, which creates gasoline additives.

Motiva officials were not immediately available to comment on details of the secondary unit operations.

In the statement, Shell said the refinery’s original 275,000 bpd complex was operating “as per plan.”

Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery is not shutting the refinery’s FCC, but will emphasize production of diesel, which is yielding higher returns for U.S. refiners as an export, the sources said.

The new crude distillation unit, which began production in April and was shut following a June 9 fire, may be idle for up to a year to repair extensive corrosion found in the unit.

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