The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) takes a look at how US refineries are adapting to the increased influx of light oil from unconventional plays. Recent rapid growth in US production of light tight oil has raised interest in understanding how US refineries, many of which are configured to process heavier crude oil, might accommodate increased volumes of domestic light crude.
More than 50% of the country's refinery capacity and most of the country's heavy crude processing capacity is located in the Gulf Coast (PADD 3). The region's 51 operating refineries with atmospheric crude distillation units (ACDU) have capacity totaling 9.7 million barrels per stream day (bbl/sd), 81% of which is located at facilities with coking capacity. Coking units can upgrade heavy crude oil into higher-valued lighter products, such as distillate and gasoline. Recent expansions have increased ACDU and coking capacity by 625,000 bbl/sd and 160,000 bbl/sd, respectively, since 2010. Despite the expanded capacity, utilization has remained steady, and the region has recently set records for high levels of gross inputs.
Changes to crude oil supply patterns are most pronounced in the Gulf Coast. Net imports into the region have fallen by 2.3 million bbl/d, and light sweet crude imports have been largely replaced by domestically produced light, tight oil.
Crude oil production in the Gulf Coast region has increased by 1.9 million b/d since 2010. Gulf Coast receipts of crude oil from the Midwest (PADD 2), including both US and Canadian production, also have increased. With more Canadian and domestic barrels moving south from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast region and lower demand for crude shipments from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest, net receipts for the Gulf Coast were positive in October 2014 for the first time since December 1985. This situation, with shipments and receipts of crude oil to and from other PADDs being roughly equal in the Gulf Coast region, is a change from the region's traditional role. The Gulf Coast has long been a source of crude supply for neighboring PADDs, both through the movement of domestic production and from imported crude oil coming into Gulf Coast ports.
With US crude production in 2015 expected to average 9.3 million bbl/d, 700,000 bbl/d above the 2014 level, domestic refiners will continue to face changing supply and demand conditions, even as continued production growth in the first months of the year transitions to a more static production outlook as the effects of the recent sharp decline in oil prices are reflected in drilling decisions. Changes to infrastructure, refinery capacity, crude oil price differentials based on quality, and policy decisions will also affect refinery operations in the coming year.
Principal contributor: Hannah Breul