Exclusive: After setbacks, Motiva refinery faces lengthy 2014 work - sources

Wed Aug 21, 2013 6:28pm EDT
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By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The biggest U.S. oil refinery could shut its main crude distillation unit for up to three months next year to replace a vibrating pipe, sources familiar with operations said, in what would be another blow to the troubled $10 billion plant.

The 600,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, has sustained a series of setbacks since Motiva Enterprise MOTIV.UL opened it last year. The setbacks include two fires last week that shut three parts of the plant.

The Fall of 2014 is likely the earliest the work could be done on the 16-inch pipe, which moves crude in the refinery's main unit, the VPS-5. Excessive vibration on the pipe prevents the 325,000 bpd unit from running at capacity, according to the sources.

The pending work means the refinery would be without its main unit just as markets seek to build up inventories of distillate ahead of winter.

"In keeping with our disclosure policy, we cannot provide detail on the timing of maintenance at specific units, or how long it will take to complete maintenance activities," a Shell official said.

Motiva is owned by Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote) and Saudi Aramco SDABO.UL.

The VPS-5 has only reached its rated capacity one time and rarely run above 300,000 bpd. Most often it runs between 250,000 and 280,000 bpd and rates are not expected to go beyond that until the pipe is replaced, sources said.

Plans to boost the main crude unit's capacity by 20 percent through efficiency improvements were scrapped in March because of the vibrating pipe.   Continued...