Exxon's Baton Rouge refinery puts off shutdown: sources

HOUSTON (Reuters) - ExxonMobil Corp on Wednesday put off plans to shut its Baton Rouge, Louisiana refinery after it managed to start a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) processing unit in the adjoining chemical plant, sources familiar with plant operations said.

A sign is seen in front of the Exxonmobil Baton Rouge Refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Lee Celano

An Exxon spokesman declined to discuss operations on specific units at the Baton Rouge refinery.

“Contrary to some reports, the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Complex is operating,” company spokesman Todd Spitler said in an email. “It is our practice not to comment on specific unit operations at our facilities. We do expect to meet contractual commitments.”

Normally, the 502,500 bpd Baton Rouge refinery sends LPG to the Sorrento, Louisiana Storage Facility where it is kept underground in salt dome caverns until needed. Flooding forced the closure of the facility over the weekend, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The floods, centered on the Baton Rouge area, have claimed at least 11 lives and forced thousands of people from their homes.

On Tuesday, Exxon shut a 110,000 bpd crude distillation unit at the refinery to reduce LPG production and the company was prepared on Wednesday to shut the refinery if the chemical plant unit could not be started, the sources said.

The chemical plant unit will process the LPG produced by the refinery, the sources said. The refinery’s production level is down to about 60 percent of capacity.

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In addition to the chemical plant unit shut on Tuesday, Exxon cut production on a 210,000 bpd CDU in half for maintenance planned prior to the floods, the sources said.

Two other CDUs at the refinery have a combined capacity of 180,000 bpd. The CDUs do the initial refining of crude oil coming into a refinery and provide feedstock for all other units.

Motiva Enterprises LLC’s 235,000 bpd Convent, Louisiana refinery continues to operate with only essential personnel due to flooding in the area, said sources familiar with the company’s operations. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

A Motiva spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Production at the refinery has been reduced since Thursday when a 45,000 bpd heavy oil hydrocracker was shut by a large fire.

Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Richard Chang