UPDATE 1-Refinery shutdowns to drive up US Northeast fuel costs-EIA

Mon Feb 27, 2012 1:05pm EST

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By Janet McGurty and Ayesha Rascoe

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Northeast should expect price spikes in gasoline and ultra-low sulfur diesel if Sunoco Inc's Philadelphia refinery shuts down this summer, The U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Monday.

Expanding on its earlier report on potential impacts of refinery activities in the Northeast, the EIA said it expects a 160,000 barrel per day gap in gasoline supply on the East Coast in 2012 if the Philadelphia refinery shuts down.

In 2011, the Northeast used 1.5 million bpd of gasoline -- 36 percent imported and 38 percent produced in regional refineries, which turned out 580,000 barrels per day.

Sunoco has shut down its 178,000 bpd refinery in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania last year due to poor margins after failing to attract a buyer for the plant.

At the end of September 2011, ConocoPhillips Corp ceased operating its 185,000 bpd refinery in Trainer and mothballed it while seeking a buyer. All three refineries are within a 12 mile radius.

The government said the larger logistical hurdle is lack of terminal and pipeline connections to move products from waterborne vessels -- either from foreign supply or the U.S. Gulf Coast -- into a product distribution system that serves Pennsylvania and western New York State.

"A higher-priced environment could persist for months, if not longer, until infrastructure changes can be made," the report said.

While some terminal capacity has been added, many midstream companies are waiting to see what happens with Philadelphia refinery before increasing their presence.

The EIA also said prices of ultra-low sulfur diesel could rise due to higher Jones Act tanker prices transporting product to East Coast.

Current law says that ships moving between U.S. ports must be owned, operated, staffed and flagged by U.S. citizens or residents. A dearth of these ships boosts freight costs.

Ultra-low sulfur diesel supply challenges will be exacerbated because more of the fuel will be required to replace heating oil due to changing environmental specifications in the U.S. Northeast. Because heating oil that meets the new specifications is unavailable outside the United States, it will need to come from the refineries along the U.S. Gulf, carried either by pipeline or by tankers that fall under the Jones Act.

The EIA said demand for the fuel will grow by 20 percent over the 360,000 bpd used in 2011.

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