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

The only constant is change. In the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI), change facilitates new discoveries process technologies and products to resolve problems. Likewise, change reshapes markets for hydrocarbon-based transportation fuels and petrochemical markets. HPI companies do survive on their flexibility and adaptability to meet change and to grow.

Beginning in the 1970s, new concerns for the environmental and following legislation and policies regarding on air, water and land issues set forth a wave change that HPI had and still must find the resilience to meet the new laws and thrive. Not all is good. In some case, history has proven that several emotional and environmentally driven changes inflicted more harm on the HPI and the public.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, October 2002:

Asia-Pacific to surpass North America as leading PE consumer. Driven by strong growth across most applications, Asia-Pacific (AP) is poised for the first time to displace North America as the world’s leading consumer of polyethylene (PE) resins. Since the 1998 economic crisis in AP, this region’s (excluding Japan) PE consumption has grown by double-digit rates. PE production in AP is expected to grow, with 4.6 million tons of new or expanded PE capacity under development. Over two-thirds of the new PE capacity will be located in China.

Allocation schemes assessed for EU emissions trading. Trading greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is viewed as an efficient and cost-effective way for companies and countries to meet obligations under international treaties. A new study assesses the trading of GHG credits could be potentially worth €30 billion/yr in the European Union (EU) alone. The program favors methods to limit GHG emissions now blamed for global warming. This system is a key feature of the United Nations climate change protocol. Several EU nations are developing emissions trading programs—among them Denmark, Norway and the UK.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, October 1992:

Global oxygenates markets increase; MTBE approaches ‘commodity’ status. The global market for methyl-tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and tertiary amyl methyl ether (TAME) is projected to increase from just over 8 million metric tons in 1991 to 33 million metric tons in 2000. Significant new capacity will be needed to meet blending requirements for oxygenated gasoline demand. The US and Western Europe are forecast to import increasing volumes of MTBE supplied from Venezuela, the Middle East, Africa and Canada. MTBE is the preferred oxygenate, but other oxygenates such as TAME and ethanol will play a role. (Editor’s note—There is some foreshadowing in this editorial).

Naphtha buyers face ’nasty surprise.’ In a new report, naphtha buyers will experience a ‘bitter’ surprise in the second half of the decade. Shortages are anticipated as naphtha supplies fail to meet demand. Slumping world economy and diversification in feedstock are believed to be responsible for future naphtha shortages. In 1991, global petrochemical producers consumed more than 112 million tons of naphtha; by 2000, naphtha consumption is expected to reach 160 million tons. Ethylene cracking accounts for 76% of the naphtha demand; aromatics reforming consumes the remainder. Asia-Pacific (AP) and Western Europe are the major naphtha-consuming regions; petrochemical companies in these regions will be most affected by future naphtha supply shortfalls. Middle East producers are the winners, supplying AP and European petrochemical producers.

Aboveground tanks face new federal regulations. The US House of Representatives is considering legislation that would regulate aboveground tanks under RCRA. This rule would affect petroleum tanks and any tanks containing CERLA-regulated substances. Part of the rules does require upgrading existing tanks to higher conditioning and operating standards plus requiring tank owners to have insurance against leaks and releases.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, October 1982:

Amount of gasoline produced in US flat for a year. The American Petroleum Institute (API) reports on September 1982 gasoline supplies increased 0.4% over August 1982 levels from 6.637 million bpd to 6.661 million bpd. As of the end of August 1982, gasoline pump prices—adjusted for inflation—had dropped 20¢/gal from the early 1981 prices. Domestic gasoline supplies are 4% lower than a year ago. Weak demand for distillates and residual fuel oil accounted for the decline.

Thermoplastics markets to grow steadily in US. Polyolefins are expected to remain the most significant group of thermoplastics. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is expected to remain the largest volume commodity thermoplastic with production exceeding 14 billion lb in 1995. High-density PE (HDPE) share of thermoplastics is expected remain at 16% of the market through 1995. Polypropylene’s market share is expected to increase from just 12% in 1980 to 13% by 1995. Thermoplastics consumption was affected by the economic downturn. Nearly one quarter of the thermoplastic’s poundage is consumed in the US market in the construction and transportation industries.

Coal: What are the impacts from environmental considerations? Demand for coal will hinge on “trade outs” for clean-coal technologies to achieve emission compliance for new boilers. Coal cleaning scrubbers can enable utilities to continue using high-sulfur coal while meeting sulfur dioxide (SO2) control requirements. Flue-gas desulfurization is major concern in controlling acid-rain precursors. By the end of 1990, worldwide spending for new SO2 removal systems will reach $4 billion/yr. North America will be the largest market for desulfurization controls followed by Western Europe.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, October 1972:

US dependency on imported petroleum is growing. The latest example: America Oil’s Texas City, Texas, refinery is bringing in overseas oil for the first time in its 39-year history. Libya shipped 234,000 bbl to this refinery in early September. The US import policy, in some districts, has been amended so refiners can draw on part of their 1973 allocations.

How are US gasoline prices shaping up? The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline, minus taxes, was 23.51¢ as of August 1. This is an increase of 14.5% over the price that prevailed in 1961. The average federal and state tax on gasoline was 11.78¢ per gallon. Consumer prices, in general, have risen about three times faster than gasoline over the past decade.

‘SCOT’ process removes tail-gas sulfur. Shell has a new process to remove residual sulfur compounds in tail gases from the sulfur-recovery unit (SRU) of Claus units. The new process called, Shell Claus Offgas Treating (SCOT) was developed at the company’s Amsterdam, The Netherlands, research laboratories. The process operates in two sections. The first part converts all free sulfur in the Claus tail gas to hydrogen sulfide (H2S) via a catalytic reaction. The second stage absorbs the H2S from the gas stream; the absorbed H2S is washed out via an alkanolamine solution; the recovered H2S is recycled.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing and Petroleum Refiner, October 1962:

Motor fuel usage increases about 3.9% above 1961 levels according to the US Bureau of Public Roads. The agency sees motor fuel consumption at 67 billion gallons (B gal), of which 61.5 B gal is used for highway travel. Of this, 2.9 B gal is diesel and butane. Six states alone account for 39% of the consumption: California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois.

News on synthetic rubber. Firestone Tire & Rubber has begun production of a new synthetic rubber, with improved properties. According To Firestone, the synthetic rubber is a stereo-copolymer of styrene and butadiene; it is an advancement over polybutadiene rubber developed in 1958. US consumption of synthetic rubber has increased over 1961 levels.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber has developed an improved manufacturing process for synthetic rubber. The new process uses preforming of the catalysts resulting in faster reaction rates and improved end product.

Octane race underway. Refiners are nervous over new octane needs for compact and sport cars under design by Detroit’s automobile manufacturers. Only 65% of new 1963 models will use regular gasoline that is a drop from 78% of 1962 new vehicles designed for regular gasoline. The half-point increase in octane rating will cost the US refining industry $250 million/yr.


  Three cranes were needed to hoist the 59-ton
  stripper tower into position for British
  American Oil Co. Ltd.’s Montreal East refinery.
  The new tower is part of a $2.5-million
  aromatics extraction plant expansion project.
  Benzene will be the primary product produced
  at the new unit. Hydrocarbon Processing and
  Petroleum Refiner,
July 1961.


  New cyclohexane tower being lifted into place
  at the Staveley Chemical’s Chesterfield,
  England site. Hydrocarbon Processing,
  March 1967.


  France’s largest topping unit (80 m tall by
  8.7 m in diameter) has a capacity of 200,000
  bpd. The crude distillation unit came online at
  BP’s Lavera refinery near Martigues. The unit
  was designed by Societe Franḉaise des
  Techniques Lummus (SFTL), Paris-based
  subsidiary of The Lummus Co. Hydrocarbon
, August 1969.

Headlines from Petroleum Refiner, October 1952:

Construction falling off. Applications for US petroleum project expansion declined in 1952 according to the Defenses Production Administration. The agency could not explain if the decline as a seasonal lull or companies realizing their goals. Nine refinery expansion projects are under development at this time.

New refinery constructed in France. The Shell Oil Co. has constructed a new refinery in Provence, France, at a cost of $28.5 million. The new refinery will enable France to be self-sufficient in manufacturing of carburants and liquefied gas.

New Canadian refinery opened by British American. The British American Oil Co. Ltd., announced the modernization of the Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, refinery. This refinery incorporates the province’s first catalytic cracking unit with 15,000-bpd capacity.

Construction has been completed for the Bureau of Mines’ shale oil demonstration project. The demonstration retort unit at Rifle, Colorado, is a promising technology to continuously extract shale oil. Constructed by the Blaw-Knox Corp, the demo unit uses a gas combustion process to recover oil from shallow shale deposits. The unit is designed for 150-tpd to 400-tpd throughput; demo plant data will used to calculate economics for a full-scale retort unit.


  In the background is the topping unit for the 
  Kent Oil refinery, Isle of Grain, Kent, England.
  Petroleum Refiner,
April 1952. 


  The world’s largest orthoflow fluid catalytic
  cracking unit is under construction at the
  Tidewater Oil Co.’s Delaware Flying A
  refinery, just south of Wilmington, Delaware.
  This new unit will incorporate the most
  modern methods to process the highest-
  grade petroleum products. Petroleum
October 1956.

Headlines from Petroleum Refiner, October 1942:

Committee on rubber in fall of 1942. The emphasis in 1942 stemmed in producing 100-octane gas gasoline, TNT and a replacement for natural rubber—synthetic rubber (SR). Having lost access to 90% of natural rubber supplies due to the war with Japan, the chief strategy is to find new rubber supplies. Notably, the demand for all rubber is projected to increase from 265,000 long tons in 1942 to 672,000 long tons by 1944—over 50% to be used by the US military. Plans outline by the US government on SR supplies involve increasing production of neoprene, butyl rubber and Buna S rubber—a copolymer of styrene and butadiene rubber (SBR). The increased production of Buna S (SBR) will involve construction of several SBR facilities along with new butadiene supplies from refinery sources.

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

Increase high-grade fuel oil product. Fuel oil is a vital product. Demand for diesel and heating oil is increasing and can be supplied through cracked residuals. The Goodwin Process can overcome the precipitation of solids difficulties of residual oil during storage. The process involves chemical and mechanical treatment of the residuum.

Cracking capacity increases. A recent January 1932 survey shows that charging capacity for US cracking plants increased to over 2 million bbls. This is an increase of 96,200 bbl—a 5% increase of the previous year’s capacity. The survey revealed a decline in distillation capacity as nonoperative. Present conditions indicate an expansion in cracking capacity at the expense of skimming. The state of Texas leads in total cracking capacity followed by California and Indiana. Thirty-seven different cracking technologies are actively applied; the Burton process has the most total units.

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

New process developed to make ‘cheap’ anhydrous aluminum chloride. A more efficient, cost-effective process to produce anhydrous aluminum chloride is now available. This chemical is used in the refining of petroleum to saturated hydrocarbons, thus stabilizing gasoline and lubricating oils.

Lower rail rates petitioned by refiners. East St. Louis refiners who receive crude oil by tank cars from Mid-continent fields are seeking lower haul and traffic rates.  HP


 Wyatt Industries fabricated and erected this
  record-sized catalytic cracking vessel at the
  Phillips Petroleum refinery at Sweeny, Texas.
  The expansion raise the facility’s refining
  capacity to 190,000 bpd—a 30% increase
  in total processing capacity. Hydrocarbon