Output at the biggest U.S. refinery could fall by at least half for up to five months after Motiva Enterprise failed to restart a major new crude unit at the Port Arthur, TX, plant over the weekend.
Just two weeks after partners Saudi Arabia and Royal Dutch Shell cut the ribbon on the new 325,000 barrel per day crude distillation unit (CDU) that pushed the plant’s capacity to 600,000 bpd, jointly owned Motiva shut the unit to fix what they thought was a leaking valve impairing production.
After the CDU twice failed to restart over the weekend, the refinery found major issues that will take at least two months and potentially up to five months to repair.
Motiva said an unspecified unit shut down due to a mechanical issue as the plant was moving toward full operations, adding an investigation was under way to understand the cause of the problem.
“This unplanned unit shutdown is unfortunate, but we will resume normal operations as soon as it is appropriate to do so,” the company said.
The entire refinery has not been shut by the outage because the pre-expansion 285,000 bpd crude distillation unit, continues to operate. CDU units perform the initial refining of crude oil coming into the refinery and provide feedstock for all other production units.
While it is not unusual for new refinery units to experience operational issues when they first come online, a shutdown lasting months would be a major embarrassment for Motiva and its owners after a landmark $10 billion upgrade.
The CDU is the centerpiece of a $10 billion, five-year expansion project that more than doubled the refinery’s capacity, and the shutdown comes after the unit’s official startup at a May 31 ceremony attended by the chief executives of Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Saudi Aramco.
At the ceremony, Motiva Vice President Tom Purves, who oversaw the expansion project, said the refinery was near its 600,000 bpd capacity and would reach full production by the end of the second quarter, advancing the date the refinery would reach that milestone by a full three months.