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Good Times for Refiners

By Charles Butcher |

    Improved profitability in the refining industry has brought a wave of investment aimed at raising capacity, boosting product quality and operating flexibility, and increasing refiners’ ability to deal with difficult feedstocks. Greater integration with petrochemical complexes and, in the future, biofuels, also characterize the modern refining industry, experts say. Though margins have been high for several years now, not all observers were confident that the new “golden age” could persist. Refining, like the petrochemicals industry to which it is so closely linked, is a historically cyclical business. But, energy analyst Wood Mackenzie (Edinburgh, U.K.) now believes that demand will continue to outstrip supply until 2010. The drivers, according to the company, are demand growth, historic under-investment, higher margins, and widening differentials between light, low-sulfur, crude oils on one hand and heavy, sour crudes on the other. Wood Mackenzie has identified more than 600 refinery projects worldwide, of which about 100 are in the U.S. Despite sharp rises in construction costs, 70% of the U.S. projects are reckoned to have a strong probability of going ahead, compared to around 25% of the projects…
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