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

Maximizing the energy potential from all hydrocarbon resources is the main goal for all nations. More efficient utilization of energy—natural gas, coal and crude oil—facilitates economic growth. As shown in the headlines from the last 90 years of Hydrocarbon Processing, progress comes in leaps and bounds, and too often, is followed an economic crisis.

Natural gas has always been part of the energy and economic equation. In the early days, this hydrocarbon was originally “stripped” to obtain the natural-gasoline components that were blended into transportation fuels. Now natural gas is a major segment of the global energy mix; its application has morphed as better methods to use this hydrocarbon developed for power generation and transportation fuels.

News about shale oil and shale gas were published back in the 1950s. However, technologies to extract and to process shale oil needed time to advance, as now witnessed in current media. The hydrocarbon processing industry has and continues to attract great talent to unravel the present-day energy problems. New solutions are investigated and researched to discover energy resources for tomorrow.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, September 2002:

Proactive strategies needed to improve petrochemical profits. A recent analysis by SRI Consulting concludes that this industry continues to struggle from poor planning over the past five years. By early 2001, fewer new petrochemical plants were under construction. Likewise, large, high-cost producers have shut down. The global petrochemical industry has begun the supply-side rationalization process. Strategies for long-term survival over the next 10 years by global petrochemical producers will involve: 1) Better integration and more flexibility in feedstock selection, 2) Building plants to capitalize on economy of scale 3) Investing in new technologies, 4) Rationalizing or consolidating high-cost operations and 5) Developing new products and processes.

Middle East emerging as dominant force in polypropylene production. Processing capacity of polypropylene (PP) is set to explode over the next five years in the Middle East and Africa regions. Approximately 3 million metric tons of new PP capacity will be built in the Middle East alone.

NSR update. In June 2002, The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to modify the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) program. EPA recommended changes on the clarification for “routine repairs and replacement.” The second set of changes will focus on “emission measurement” policy.

Shell’s Scotford refinery located near
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Hydrocarbon
September 2004.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, September 1992:

Natural gas makes an impact on the HPI. Natural gas (NG) continues to increase its role as a plant fuel, petrochemical feedstock, competitor for distillate markets and a motor fuel. The NG supply/demand and pricing trends are important to refiners and petrochemical manufacturers. In 1992, NG prices remained low—averaging $1.06 MMBtu—and failed to climb during the winter heating season. The Energy Information Agency believes that NG consumption will increase 5.5%/yr.

Hydrogen supplies a major focus for refiners. Hydrogen supply is becoming critical as the refining industry adjusts to new environmental regulations and market-driven factors. In Europe, growing demand for methyl-tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) to sustain higher octane needs due to the lead phase-out will require more hydrogen. In the US, gasoline reformulation and tough diesel specifications will require refiners to also consume more hydrogen. Growing demand for better quality gasoline is placing more pressure on available hydrogen supplies. Approximately 3.6 Tcf of hydrogen is consumed in the US, with the refining industry responsible for half of the hydrogen consumption. With the upcoming changes in the gasoline blending pool, the US refining market will need an additional 1.4 Tcf of hydrogen to meet new clean fuel requirements.

Methanol demand to grow rapidly through 1996. Methanol (MeOH) is forecast to be one of the fastest growing petrochemicals over the next five years. Increased blending of MTBE in gasoline has radically changed MeOH demand patterns. Oxygenate (MTBE) production will account for 60% of the MeOH consumption in the US market. A recent rebound in the formaldehyde market is also increasing MeOH demand.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, September 1982:

Third oil crisis is likely before 1990. Energy champion and economist, Dr. Daniel Yergin has released a new book based on a four-year international research project at Harvard entitled: Global in security, a strategy for energy. Dr. Yergin believes a third oil crisis is likely before 1990, and oil prices will double by 2000. (Oil prices averaged between $27.66/bbl to $33.56/bbl in July 1982.) These trends are based on rising demand for petroleum and economic recovery.

US refining capacity increasing. According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), US crude oil distillation capacity is forecast to increase to 17.7 million bpd (MMbpd) by March 1983; it is a 227,000 bbl increase over reported 1981 distillation capacity. The API survey also indicated that 2.3 MMbpd of the US capacity was shut down in March 1982—about 12.5% of the US distillation capacity. The increase reflects new refineries and expansion projects under construction and expected to be complete by year end.

Acid rain: A growing controversy. Efforts continue to define “acid rain.” The new debate focuses on EPA’s efforts to roll back sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. It is estimated that the new environmental rules will cost billions to implement. In addition, the US Congress is reauthorizing the Clean Water Act (CWA) to meet second stage treatment requirements by 1984. Questions still exist on best available technology (BAT) for water treatment. Over 90% of the US chemical industry met the CWA of 1977 rules. Nearly all major industries have reduced discharges of conventional pollutants into navigable waters to practical minimums.

European petrochemical industry looks for upturn. Europe’s petrochemical industry should improve compared to 1981 growth numbers. Yet, many structural problems continue for this industry. Lack of integration continues to plague the European market, especially in taxation, safety standards, and environment and health protection. European petrochemical producers are at a disadvantage when compared to US and Japanese producers. Europe’s present economic systems do not support investment. In addition, studies show that bulk-chemical production now exceeds local demand. For example, Europe’s plastic industry suffers from 40% over-capacity production. National expansions have collectively overshot regional demand. The European chemical industry needs structural reorganization to eliminate overcapacity and investment to further develop high-value specialty products.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, August 1972:

1972 Refining Processes Handbook. HP publishes its technology focus handbook regarding the advances in licensed refining processes. Over 100 processes are included in this handbook with 15% of the process as new developments since the 1970 edition. Licensing companies participating in this handbook include: BP Trading Inc., Edeleanu GmbH, Engelhard Minerals & Chemicals Co., Esso Research and Engineering Co., Houdry, Hydrocarbon Research Inc., Institut Français du Pétrole, Standard Oil Co. (Indiana), Texaco, Union Oil Co. of California, UOP and more.

Oil company performance lack luster in 1972. US demand for crude oil during the first half of 1972 averaged 46 million bpd (MMbpd)—a 6% increase over 1971. Oil demand in the US is growing due to a shortage of natural gas and a conversion to oil from other energy resources due to environmental concerns. Free-world crude oil production averaged 41 MMbpd—about 1.1% higher than 1971 production levels. Environmental factors caused a reduction in the output of high-sulfur crudes from Venezuela. Earnings by the petroleum industry declined 14% in response to low oil prices and higher taxes.

Update on oil industry statistics. The US Bureau of Mines released its latest report on the US refining industry. On January 1, 1972, 282 refineries were operating with a total crude distillation capacity of 13.4 million bpd. The total number of refineries increased by three, and distillation capacity increased by 417,000 bpd, or 3.2%. The change revealed that two refineries were dismantled and five new refineries came onstream during 1971.

Major units are under construction at Gulf Oil
Canada’s new 80,000-bpd refinery at
Edmonton. The new units will replace the
existing 14,000-bpd facility. The revamp
includes new alkylation and deisohexanizer
units. Hydrocarbon Processing 1970.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing and Petroleum Refiner, September 1962:

Oil-shale plant to restart. The US Department of the Interior (DOI) is investigating the feasibility of restarting the Rifle, Colorado, shale oil facility, which has been shut down since 1955. The investigation is prompted by improved economic production methods of oil from shale. Congress must approve funding to restore the plant; the DOI would operate the facility or seek an outside organization.

Synthetic rubber production reaches new high. In 1962, synthetic rubber (SR) production topped out at 110,000 long tons/month—accounting for 70% of all rubber consumed. SR has replaced natural rubber in many applications. New polymers—polyisoprene, polybutadiene and ethylene-propylene—comprise 10% of the rubber market.

A new look at gasification. In a statement by the Institute of Gas Technology (IGT), more than half of future US energy demand will met by coal and high-grade oil shale. The future recovery of high-Btu pipeline gas is estimated at 185 MM bpd—a heating value of 1,000 billion Mcf. Coal reserves have a value of about 17,000 million Mcf natural gas equivalent, and processes are under development for the conversion of coal to methane—natural gas’ main component. IGT is discussing the development of Lurgi’s coal gasification process to be used in a planned $55-million facility. The US DOI awarded a $1.2-million grant to Spencer Chemical to fund research for a first-step process on coal refining.

The North Rincon Gasoline plant raises a
97-ft absorption oil still column. The facility
has a design capacity of 35 Mcfd. The new
facility is part of the Shell Oil Co. and Cities
Services Oil Co. project. Hydrocarbon
and Petroleum Refiner 1961.

A 163-ft, 143-ton atmospheric tower
constructed by Ishikawajima-Harmina Heavy
Industries is moved from the Nagoya shipyard
in Japan to a transportation freighter. The
tower is part of a grassroots refinery under
construction in Kuwait.
March 1967.

Fractionating (splitter) column is being
lowered on to its foundation. The new splitter is
part of Chemplex’s new ethylene plant under
construction at Clinton, Iowa. The 218-ft long
and 12-ft diameter column is the tallest column
in the complex. Hydrocarbon Processing 1967.

Headlines from Petroleum Refiner, September 1952:

1952 Process section. The editors of the Petroleum Refiner complete the first refining, natural gasoline and petrochemical processing handbook. It features the leading technologies available to the hydrocarbon processing industry. Advances in refining technologies focus on producing higher octane gasoline for modern automobiles. Catalytic cracking with moving (fluid) bed is among the latest developments. Catalytic alkylation and polymerization are among the refining process units under construction. Other new processes highlighted in this handbook include ethylene and aromatics.

Construction news: Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. is planning a 100,000-bpd refinery at the Port of Aden on the Red Sea. The estimated capital for the new refinery is between $ 112 million to $140 million. It is forecast that it will take two years to build the new refinery. This facility will supply refined products to the Red Sea and East and South Africa.

Standard Oil of California will build a 36,000-bpd catalytic cracking unit at the El Segundo refinery. The new cracker will convert heavy fuel oil into aviation gasolines and high-grade automobile fuels. Cost for unit is estimated to exceed $20 million, and the project should be completed and onstream by mid-1952.

Union Oil Co. of California has award Fluor the construction project for a new vacuum distillation unit at its Los Angeles, California refinery. This project includes two crude-topping units and will raise crude capacity from 70,000 bpd to 110,000 bpd.

New column being raised at the Stanlow
(Chershire) refinery. The 240-ton and
170-ft long column was constructed by
Babcock & Wilcox at the Renfrew works.
Construction at the refinery will be completed
by January 1952. Petroleum Refiner 1951.

A 75-ton prefabricated steel column arrives
by barge to be installed at the Tidewater
Oil Co’s Flying A refinery near Wilmington,
Delaware. The column is a gasoline splitter
to be installed at the refinery’s gas plant.
Petroleum Refiner

Side view of the new superheaters
constructed at the Neches Butane Products’
Port Neches, Texas facility. Petroleum

Headlines from Petroleum Refiner, September 1942:

More plants to process butadiene. The butadiene program was altered in August 1942 to permit using more existing equipment. The action will allow more companies to provide much needed supplies of butadiene. Technological development by the refining industry permitted this change to increase butadiene production. New refining methods such as thermal cracking of gasoline, catalytic dehydrogenation and catalytic cracking are providing more needed petrochemicals and 100-octane aviation fuels for the war effort. New designated butadiene facilities will also be constructed. Using existing facilities will provide the nuclei to advance the program.

War effort impacts income of US refiners. Early reports show that refineries in Districts 1, 2 and 3 are facing income losses as high as $35,000/day due to processing changes to produce refined products for the war effort. Eastern refiners are having difficulties and they are forecast to experience a hard winter. Likewise, fuel rationing targets have not been met. The government is investigating more measures to support fuels needs for the armed forces as well as for domestic use.

Headlines from The Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, September 1932:

Michigan refinery applies automatic control. The Pure Oil Co.’s Midland, Michigan refinery was recently completed. The 3,500-bpd refinery uses automatic control on all process units with improved refining operations designed by Alco Products Co.

New absorber extracts propane. Skelly Oil Co. has developed a new absorber, trade named the “Skelgas.” This absorber promotes propane extraction with a two-tower fractionation process.

Headlines from The Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, April 1923:

New process for gasoline absorption from natural gas. The Newton process is an absorption method. Distinguishable features of this process include ease of operations, economy in construction and low operating costs. Four units are now operating. This process is very adaptable. It can manufacture gasoline from natural gas and is an ideal process to recovery gasoline from uncondensed still vapors of oil refineries.

New construction: Texhoma Oil and Refining Co. plans to install four Dubbs stills at its North Texas facility. The new units will crack 2,000 bpd of crude into fuel oil and distillates. When complete, this facility will have the largest processing capacity in North Texas.

Waite Phillips to use Cross units at Okmulgee. The Waite Phillips Co. will install two Cross cracking stills at its Oklahoma refinery. The new cracking units will process low-gravity crude along with high-gravity crudes. Plant capacity will increase from 3,000 bbl to 5,000 bbl. Cost for the project is estimated at $300,000. HP