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US oil refiners work to recover from weekend glitches, fires

[PHILADELPHIA] Three of the largest US oil refineries were working to restore operations on Tuesday after a series of weekend glitches temporarily knocked out some 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of processing capacity in the worse spate of outages in years.

A fourth plant, Husky Energy Inc's 155,000-bpd Lima, Ohio, refinery, was not expected back online until the end of the week after an explosion at its 25,000-bpd isocracker unit, which sources have said was extensively damaged. People familiar with the refinery said icy weather may further delay the restart.

The disruptions, which included three fires on Saturday and one shutdown late last week, affected about one-fifth of the refining capacity in the eastern half of the United States, fueling deeper losses in US crude oil prices, but boosting prompt gasoline and diesel prices in the New York harbour.

The East Coast experienced its coldest stretch of the winter at the time. Cold weather can sometimes complicate operations at high-pressure refinery units.

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Philadelphia Energy Solutions' 335,000-bpd refinery, the largest on the East Coast, was showing the first signs of a restart at its larger 200,000-bpd crude unit on Tuesday after a utility system failure, according a report from Genscape, an industry information provider. Weak furnace stack activity has been reported from the unit, Genscape said. The crude section remained below operational levels, according to Genscape. The plant was also pressing ahead with maintenance at a handful of secondary units due to start in a week's time.

Marathon Petroleum Corp's 212,000-bpd Robinson, Illinois, refinery planned to restart by Tuesday, a source said, after a fire shuttered its crude unit and vacuum distillation unit. The cause of the fire was not known.

Also in Illinois, BP Plc was restarting a 90,000-bpd crude unit and a 60,000-bpd reformer at its Whiting plant on Monday after freezing temperatures caused them to shut on Jan 8, sources said. Restart plans over the weekend were also delayed by the cold.

The largest crude unit at the refinery, with a 240,000-bpd capacity, briefly cut back production over the weekend, but returned to normal service on Monday.

For physical crude oil markets, the outages may add to pressure that has been steadily building for months. The response in cash markets was muted on Tuesday as supply remained abundant and most outages appeared set to be brief.