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Challenges for U.S. petroleum refiners

By Gerald Parkinson |

The closure of several U.S. petroleum refineries over the past few months carries a simple message: petroleum refining is a tough business to be in these days. Paradoxical as it may seem to consumers, the recent rapid increase in fuel prices does not represent higher profits for refiners, which are generally operating with low margins, but is simply due to the higher cost of crude oil. Sunoco, Inc. (Philadelphia, Pa.; www.Sunoco.com) announced its intention to exit the refining business last September and focus instead on its profitable logistics and retail businesses. The company’s two refineries, with a combined crude capacity of 505,000 bbl/d, were put up for sale, but despite rigorous efforts Sunoco has found no buyers. The company stopped processing crude at its Marcus Hook (Pa.) refinery last December and plans to idle the main processing units at its Philadelphia refinery by July. Also, ConocoPhillips (Houston; www.conocophillips.com) shut down its 185,000-bbl/d refinery in Trainer, near Philadelphia, last fall and is seeking a buyer for it. Hovensa, a joint venture between Hess Corp. (New York City; www.hess.com) and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (Caracas), closed its 350,000-bbl/d…
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