HPInsight: The global HPI's top April headlines from 1922 through 2012

(Editor's note: The HPInsight article posted below is included in this month's Hydrocarbon Processing print edition. To read the top April 2012 headlines, click here.)

Remaining profitable continues to be a critical issue for hydrocarbon processing facilities. Balancing new technology with government mandates is a thorny problem. Environmental issues add more cost to refined products. Changes in transportation fuels continue as vehicle manufacturers update engine designs. R&D and innovative inventors continue to find solutions to old and new challenges of the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI).

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, April 2002:

Clean fuels: Estimated $7 billion in US refining capital spending. In 1999, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released Tier II sulfur mandates, as part of the Clean Fuels Program. These rules require lowering sulfur concentrations in gasoline to 30 ppm by 2006. Compliance with the low-sulfur guidelines for gasoline and diesel is deemed to be complicated. Most refiners have studied two possible options: revamping diesel hydrotreaters or constructing new desulfurization units. A study of the 162 US refineries identified construction of 96 new desulfurization units, representing $6.6 billion in total spending.

OPEC recommends output freeze; group will meet again in June. OPEC continues to maintain its crude oil output until the global economy and/or demand improves. The group also hopes to improve crude oil contributions from non-OPEC producers.

Controversy swirls around renewable fuel standard. The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) have joined forces against pending legislation to ban methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and to create a renewable fuel standard. The new mandate would require use of approximately 5 billion gallons of ethanol in gasoline before 2012. By providing liability protection to ethanol but not for MTBE, refiners will have significant incentives to abandon MTBE blending before the four-year ban takes effect.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, April 1992:

Crude oil to remain ‘inexpensive’ for two years, said the renowned energy economist, P. K. Verleger. “OPEC cut nearly 2 million bpd of production to attain a $21/bbl minimum reference set in July 1990. However, curtailment won’t hold prices at current levels,” Verleger said.

‘City diesel’ curtails emissions. Year-long trials are underway in Helsinki, Finland, with a new “diesel fuel” that promises to cut both sulfur and particulate emissions from public transport vehicles. “City diesel” was developed by Neste Oil, based on surveys with engine manufacturers. The new diesel has a low–sulfur content (0.005 wt% as compared to 0.1 wt% to 0.2 wt% of present diesel) and is also less aromatic.

Synthetic rubber demand on the rise. Recovery in the global synthetic rubber (SR) market is anticipated. Worldwide consumption of SR and natural rubber will increase over the next five years (1991–1996) to 15.8 million tons, thus having an average annual 2.1% demand growth rate. All geographical regions should experience new growth. However, demand in Central Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is expected to decline 17% over the same period.

OSHA issues final rule for chemicals PSM. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule entitled, Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals in the Federal Register on Feb. 24, 1992. This rule requires employers to manage hazards associated with processes using materials identified as highly hazardous. It will affect any industry that produces, uses, stores, transports or handles any of these materials in amounts equal to or greater than the specified quantity. As part of the rule, employers must compile written process safety information, conduct hazard analyses, develop and implement written operating procedures, train employees on the written procedures, and more. Twelve criteria are included under the new rule.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, April 1982:

LPG emerging as the motor fuel for fleet vehicles. Once again, motor vehicles powered with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are under consideration, especially for fleet applications. Industry statistics indicate that more than 500,000 vehicles per year will be converted to propane during the 1980s. Most of the converted LPG vehicles will be part of municipal fleets, such as police cars and other emergency vehicles.

Get jet fuel from shale oil in single step? Amoco Oil’s new experimental catalyst moved closer to the reality of converting shale oil into aviation fuel.

Synfuels viability boils down to economics. A coal gasification plant’s product would have to net $17/MMBtu in 1988 (as compared to $100/bbl of crude oil). At present, the most expensive category of natural gas is about $9/MMBtu. Capital cost for a synfuels facility is another huge factor; construction costs for coal gasification units continue to rise. The present oil glut, temporary or not, is another factor.

Natural gas price decontrol? Decontrol of the US natural gas (NG) market remains a controversial subject. As a major consumer, the US chemical industry remains vulnerable to NG supply shortages. Shortfalls are attributed to inadequate incentives under the Natural Gas Policy Act (NGPA), passed in 1978. NGPA has contributed to significant disruption in the NG market.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, April 1972:

Heavy-oil cracking process developed. Kellogg International and Phillips Petroleum have developed a new heavy-oil cracking (HOC) process that can convert residuals from the atmospheric or vacuum towers directly into high-octane gasoline. The Kellogg-Phillips HOC Process disposes of high-sulfur residuals by extending the feedstock range for fluid catalytic cracking. The first unit was constructed at Phillips’ Borger, Texas, refinery, and it has an operating capacity of 25,000 bpd.

Anti-pollution control will cost billions by 1976. Over the next four years, petrochemical/chemical companies will invest $1.43 billion on capital equipment alone for environmental projects. Total estimated costs for water, air and solid-waste pollution-control projects will bump $12.7 billion by 1976.

Lead drops, but US octane holds up. Despite a drop in the average lead content, the octane of regular and premium gasoline at US service stations remains at a high level. Octane levels were maintained by altering the proportions of fuel additives, and by incorporating new blending methods, to compensate for the lower lead content. In 1972, lead content in gasoline dropped from 2.43 g/gal to 2.22g/gal.

New desulfurization process available. Chisso Engineering of Japan has developed a new desulfurization process that can compete with conventional hydrogenation processes. The new process uses water at 250°C to melt and extract undesirable compounds from petroleum at a fifth of the cost of other methods.

Takahax process recovers sulfur dioxide directly from gases with very low hydrogen sulfide (H2S) content. The process was originally developed in Japan. Nissan Engineering has constructed 40 units, and has issued an exclusive license to Ford, Bacon & Davis to design and construct Takahax units in the Western Hemisphere. The process uses a caustic solution with an oxidation-reduction catalyst to remove nearly 100% of the H2S.

Alaska pipeline seems far off—and expensive. The Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. says the cost of the pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez would be about $3 billion. Putting this pipeline through Canada would double construction costs. There is still no (US) government approval on the construction project, but the approval is expected no later than mid-June (1972).

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing and Petroleum Refiner, April 1962:

Esso designs a ‘baby cat’ cracker. A new fluid-catalytic cracker with substantially lower operating and investment costs has been designed by Esso R&D. This unit can provide operating capacities below 5,000 bpd, and it is referred to as the “kitty” cracker. The capacity range of the commercial model is 1,500 bpd to 20,000 bpd.

New ethanolamines process developed. Leonard Process has announced a new ethanolamine process that is based on reacting excess aqueous ammonia with ethylene oxide at elevated temperatures and pressures. The new process is completely automated; it is more energy efficient and consumes less utilities. The new process provides more operating flexibility; it can process three ethanolamine products—mono-, di- and tri-ethanolamines.

Labor productivity study released on the US refining industry. A study by the Department of Labor is the first analysis of the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) by a government group. Some interesting findings are: In 1947, the US had 361 refineries; only 291 are in operation in 1959. However, refining capacity throughput increased from 5.3 million bpd to 9.5 million bpd in 1959. Likewise, plant size increased. Over the same period, HPI employment decreased 7%. With a smaller workforce, production output increased 105%, and total salaries and wages increased 76%.

Headlines from Petroleum Refiner, April 1952:

US natural gasoline industry has more than doubled its output since the end of WWII. This industry continues to build. Texas is the leading natural gasoline producing state and it accounts for half of the domestic output. In 1945, there were just slightly more than 200 Texas plants engaged in removing hydrocarbons from natural gas. Today, approximately 350 plants now operate in Texas; these facilities have an average capacity of 1,000 bpd.

Too costly and superfluous is the opinion of the National Petroleum Council (NPC) on synthetic fuels. The council has informed the US Department of the Interior (DOI) that many fallacies exist on synthetic liquids produced from coal. The NPC believes that the DOI has overstated the benefits from synfuels and underestimated the costs—capital and operating—for the proposed synfuels plant.

Ethylene production by steam pyrolysis of ethane. The petrochemical industry is focused on ethylene—an important raw material. Two sources are available for ethylene: 1) cracked gases from refining operations, and 2) pyrolysis of ethane or propane.

Headlines from Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, April 1942:

Patents set aside. Through a consent decree by the US Federal Court, synthetic rubber (SR) patents held by Standard Oil Co. (New Jersey) have been made available royalty free to the US industry until six months after the end of the WWII. Standard Oil agreed to the decree rather than fight litigation of anti-trust violations in its relationship with I. G. Farbenindustrie, a German trust.

New SR capacity operational by 1943. New production capacity of 700,000 tons of synthetic rubber (SR) should be operational by the end of 1943. Twenty-one companies are involved in this project—11 petroleum companies, seven chemical companies and four rubber manufacturers. The petroleum companies will provide feedstocks for the rubber manufacturers which include: Firestone Tire & Rubber, The B.F. Goodrich Co., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and the US Rubber Co.

Headlines from Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, April 1932:

Octane requirements force cracking expansions. Straight-run (SR) gasoline has lost its dominance. The new Ethyl Standard of 78 octane, effective March 1, 1932, further decreases demand for SR gasoline. Refiners must use more cracked stocks to meet octane limits. Those refiners without cracking facilities and capability will be left behind.

Increase octane through reforming units. Research and development investigates the conversion of heavy naphthas into quality gasoline with high anti-knock qualities.

Headlines from Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, January 1923:

Midwest uses welded pipe in gasoline line. Forty miles of extra-heavy pipe, capable of withstanding 1,200 psi, were used to construct a pipeline joining two natural-gasoline plants in Wyoming. To reduce the number of joints, the pipe was delivered in 40-ft lengths. The pipe lengths were welded into 1,700-ft-long sections and then joined together by a overhead welding process.

New cracking processes available. Development of the cracking process over the past few years has been phenomenal. Refiners are directing more attention to the new processes. Nine different cracking processes are available: 1) cracking in stills; 2) cracking in the liquid phase in tubes under pressure; 3) cracking in the liquid-vapor phase in tubes under pressure; 4) a combination of 2 and 3 using steam; 5) cracking with a combination of 1-4, using fixed gases and hydrogen; 6) cracking with any of the above processes with chemicals; 7) cracking with the aid of integral heat; 8) cracking in the vapor phase in tubes under pressure; and 9) cracking by electrical methods. HP

  Operations at Marathon Oil Co.’s 200,000-bpd
  Garyville, Louisiana, refinery are automatically
  and remotely controlled from four control
  centers. This main process control center
  oversees all process operations electronically.
  It is linked by radio and telephone to other
  centers monitoring and controlling the boiler
  area, tank farm and water treatment facilities.
  Hydrocarbon Processing.  

  Construction continues for the largest catalytic
  cracking and gas recovery unit, with 63,000
  bpd of crude oil capacity. The cracker was
  designed and built by The M.W. Kellogg Co.
  for Gulf Oil’s Philadelphia refinery.
  Petroleum Refiner, 1954.

  The new 360-ft tall Houdriflow cat cracker
  dwarfs the fixed-bed catalytic refining units
  at Sun Oil’s Marcus Hook, refinery. The new
  18,000-bpd Houdriformer will increase the
  refinery’s capacity to produce high-quality
  gasoline. Petroleum Refiner, 1955.

  The largest Indian oil refinery was built near
  Bombay by Burmah-Shell Refineries Ltd., at
  a cost of £23 million, and it was completed a
  year ahead of schedule. The refinery is located
  on Trombay Island, 10 miles northeast of
  Bombay. The facility can process 2 million tpy
  of crude oil into petrol, kerosine, diesel and
  fuel oil. Petroleum Refiner, 1955.

  The Royal Dutch Shell’s Pernis refinery is the
  largest refinery in Europe. It has a processing
  capacity of 15 million tpy of crude oil. The photo
  shows the refinery’s catalytic cracking unit,
  which primarily produces high-octane gasoline.
  Hydrocarbon Processing and Petroleum
November 1961.

  Construction photo of the 50,000-bpd coker
  unit at Totals’ Port Arthur, Texas refinery.
  Hydrocarbon Processing, June 2009.

  In the top photo, the Ultraformer at the
  American Oil Co.’s Whiting, Indiana, refinery
  is the first catalytic reformer to be controlled by
  a computer. The 21,000-bpd unit produces
  high-octane gasoline. Over 250 scanning
  process instruments are used to monitor
  process conditions of the reformer. The photo
  below shows the modern control room used
  to monitor data from the field instruments.
  Hydrocarbon Processing and Petroleum

  The Ludwigshafen site is BASF’s largest
  production facility. The site was established
  146 yeas ago. Over 200 production enterprises
  are linked together via a 2,000-km
  aboveground pipeline network. Hydrocarbon
April 2009.

  The Quaker State Oil Refining Co. operates
  two Dubbs stills at the Emlenton, Pennsylvania
  site. The Refiner, October 1931.

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