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New Motiva Texas CDU might be shut for 12 months


No final decision on how long crude unit will be idle –sources; Motiva has said no timeline for CDU's return

June 20, 2012 2:30 by

A new giant crude distillation unit at Motiva Enterprises’ 600,000 barrel per day (bpd) Port Arthur, Texas, refinery, the nation’s largest, may be shut for up to 12 months to repair extensive corrosion, sources familiar with refinery operations said on Tuesday.

Motiva, a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Saudi Aramco, has yet to make a final determination of the cause of the corrosion on the 325,000 bpd crude distillation unit (CDU) and the scope of work needed to repair it, the sources said.

A Motiva spokeswoman said on Tuesday there was no date for the CDU’s return.

“At this point, we don’t know how long the crude unit will be down,” said Motiva spokeswoman Emily Oberton. “An investigation is continuing to determine the cause of the issue.”

Oberton declined to say if corrosion had been found in the unit.

The new CDU began refining crude oil in late April and stopped production after a leak was found in early June. The CDU was idled following a June 9 attempt to restart that led to a small fire.

While fire damage was negligible, sources have said extensive corrosion has been found in vessels and piping of the CDU.

The time needed to repair the CDU has jumped from two months to five months to a full year, in the 10 days since the CDU was idled, according to sources.

The outage has not caused a shutdown of the entire refinery because the pre-expansion 285,000 bpd crude distillation unit continues to operate. A CDU performs the initial refining of crude oil coming into the refinery and provides feedstock for all other production units.

While it is not unusual for new refinery units to experience operational teething pains when they are first commissioned, a shutdown lasting months would be a major embarrassment for Motiva and its owners after the landmark $10 billion upgrade.

The outage may also complicate Saudi Arabia’s drive to push more crude into the market, as the Port Arthur plant was one of the biggest new outlets for increased production.

Oberton said some of the Saudi crude was being utilized at the refinery.

“Other units are operating, including some of the expansion units,” she said. “So, we’re working to optimize production without the crude unit.”

Oberton declined to say which of the new expansion units, other than the CDU could run crude. In addition to the crude unit, a new delayed coking unit, which processes residual crude oil, was built.

Other units built in the expansion primarily receive intermediate feedstocks from the crude unit.

Oberton also declined to say how many barrels per day of crude were being refined at Port Arthur plant without the new CDU.

U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia jumped to 1.45 million barrels during the first five months of 2012, according to Reuters calculations based on monthly and weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the highest level for that period since 2008.

Saudi Arabia pushed oil production to the highest level in decades in May, hitting 10.10 million barrels per day on average for the month according to a Reuters survey, helping to cushion the impact of Western sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, which have threatened Tehran’s exports.

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