Heavy slate of U.S. oil refinery overhauls to crimp fuel output

The Valero refinery next to the Houston Ship Channel is seen in Houston, Texas, U.S., May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo/File Photo

WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - U.S. oil refiners plan twice as many refinery overhauls this spring as usual, aiming to resume maintenance delayed by the pandemic and by the lure of record-high margins, according to data provider IIR Energy and Reuters reporting.

The size of the planned outages suggests supplies of gasoline and diesel could tighten and margins rise as the European Union's Feb. 5 ban on imports of Russian petroleum products takes effect, increasing the call on U.S. fuels.

At least 15 U.S. oil refineries plan maintenance ranging from two to 11 weeks through May, tallies by Reuters and refining intelligence firm IIR Energy show. By mid-February, U.S. refiners will drop some 1.4 million barrels per day of processing capacity, double the five-year average, according to IIR.

"A lot of plants didn't want to shut down last year when margins were strong, but they have to get this work done," said John Auers, refining analyst with Refined Fuels Analytics.

Nine U.S. refineries operated by Marathon Petroleum, Valero Energy, Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66, and BP will shutter some of their fuel producing units this spring, according to IIR and Reuters sources.

PBF Energy's (PBF.N) Toledo, Ohio, refinery remains largely offline from December, according to two people familiar with the matter.

TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) is restarting most of the units at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery after several shut due to frigid weather in late December.

MARGINS ALREADY HIGH

Fuel-producing margins have crept higher on the outages. The gasoline crack spread is hovering around $26 per barrel, $5 higher than a year ago. Heating oil margins are $58 per barrel, more than double the year-ago level.

U.S. gasoline inventories are 226.8 million barrels, compared to 240.7 million at this time last year, while refinery capacity is 8% lower than before storm Elliott.

"Refiners are going to have a hard time catching up with refinery row struggling to make a comeback," said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho.

New capacity is coming to market soon. Exxon this month launched start up procedures at a $2 billion expansion of its Beaumont, Texas, refinery, Iraq's Karbala oil refinery is expected to start in March, and a second leg of Kuwait's 615,000 barrel per day al-Zour refinery is due to start up next quarter.

"Beaumont's startup, and startup of other plants across the world in the first half of the year, should prevent significant product shortages," said Auers.

GRAPHIC, U.S. offline refining capacity expected to soar: https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-REFINING/zjvqjedkrpx/

U.S. oil refinery maintenance this spring will cut processing capacity for gasoline and diesel by more than double the 5-year average, according to IIR Energy data and a Reuters tally.
Reporting by Laura Sanicola; Editing by David Gregorio

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Thomson Reuters

Reports on oil and energy, including refineries, markets and renewable fuels. Previously worked at Euromoney Institutional Investor and CNN.