A Closer Look: Oil Refineries Require Care and Feeding To Thrive

What makes refineries, ultimately, thrive? ? Several factors come into play.

20 February 2014

Oil refineries take expensive, but nearly useless, "hazardous material" (crude oil), and convert this gooey mess into usable and valuable petroleum refined products. An oil refinery makes its living consuming crude oil and turning that crude into a wide range of fuels, petrochemicals and other products. These refined products help power, build, and move our modern civilization. But what makes refineries, ultimately, thrive? Several factors come into play to answer this question.

First, the challenge for every refiner is that crude oil comes in a diverse range of quality and compositions. When it comes to crude oil feed-stocks, a tailored approach must be taken by petroleum refiners. If a particular crude oil agrees with the configuration of particular refinery, then the refined production is optimized. Results will be less than optimal, however, if a particular crude oil "disagrees" with how a refinery is configured. Such mismatches can lead to multiple problems.

Crude oil widely ranges in quality. Blended crudes pose additional challenges. Crude oil selection can help or hurt a refiner's efforts to meet client quality and government regulatory requirements.

To manage this problem, petroleum refineries use a wide range of engineering, process, and technology options. Refineries evaluate these options, collectively, to build individual refining processes which will 'optimize' the production and profit for each refinery. The degree of technology and processes used to optimize crude oil refining can be described as 'complexity'. Some refineries are more complex than others, depending upon the crude oil feed-stocks each refinery is built to accommodate.

An important resource in every refiner's tool kit is the ability to scientifically measure the components in each crude oil stream the refinery is looking to purchase for consumption. This is called "Crude Oil Assay" analysis. Decisions can be made to purchase or not to purchase once refiners receive the data back from the assay.

Petroleum engineers and refinery managers pay close attention to the ingredients of a barrel of crude oil going into their refinery.

Knowing what you should get from a specified barrel of oil to feed your refinery is one thing. What you actually get from that barrel can be quite another. To help protect refineries, and ensure that the contractually agreed quality and quantity parameters of crude oil feeds stocks are met, crude oil cargo inspection is required.

What questions do you have about this topic? Please leave your comments below and one of our experts will get back to you.

Today's blog is contributed by Erik Holladay. Erik is the Global Marketing Director for Commodities at Intertek. His work has taken him across the globe to understand and address the challenges facing quality, quantity, outsourcing, inspection, R&D, engineering and manufacturing clients in the global marketplace. Erik has been with Intertek for more than 14 years and is based in the Houston, Texas office.