Asia, Mideast Lead Push for New Refineries to Meet Oil Demand

From the Associated Press

Oil companies and other investors are spending a collective $100 billion on new oil refineries that could alleviate the current bottleneck in refining capacity -- and eventually translate into a small cut in the price of gasoline, a top project financier said here Sunday.

Will Rathvon, global head of project finance for Britain’s Standard Chartered Bank, said that more than 30 new or expanded refineries will come on stream over the next decade, adding at least 6.5 million barrels a day of badly needed capacity to global fuel markets.

“Right now, refining is maxed out,” Rathvon said on the sidelines of a Middle East energy conference. “At this point, the shutdown of a single refinery -- even for maintenance -- can trigger an increase in gasoline prices.”


Refineries in fuel-thirsty Asia are operating at a frantic 95% capacity, Rathvon said. In North America and Europe, refineries are also running at over 90% capacity, he said. “Running that tight has put prices up,” Rathvon told the Associated Press.

Officials such as Saudi Oil Minister Ali Ibrahim Naimi have blamed a lack of refining capacity for stubbornly high fuel prices.

New refining capacity of at least 6.5 million barrels a day over the next decade could shave $2 or $3 from the price of a barrel of crude oil. Americans might see a 5 to 10 cent reduction in the price of a gallon of gasoline, Rathvon said.

But most new refineries are being built outside the United States -- mainly due to opposition to refinery construction by local communities near proposed sites. That means Americans may pay as much as $1 per barrel more to import a larger proportion of their fuel as finished gasoline and diesel in coming years, Rathvon said.

Around 60% of new refinery construction is in Asia and the Middle East, mainly China, India, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kuwait and Japan.

Three major refinery deals have been announced in Saudi Arabia this month alone.

They include a $4.3-billion refinery and petrochemical complex in Rabigh on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast developed by Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical Co. and Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabian Oil and ConocoPhillips signed a $6-billion agreement to build a 400,000-barrel-a-day refinery in the Red Sea city of Yanbu.

And state-owned Saudi Aramco and French oil company Total agreed to build a 400,000-barrel-a-day refinery in the Saudi city of Jubail on the Persian Gulf.

India’s Reliance Petroleum Ltd. will spend $6 billion to finance an export-oriented refinery at Jamnagar in western Gujarat state to produce jet fuel, gasoline and diesel. And a $5-billion, 320,000-barrel-a-day refinery expansion is planned for China’s Fujian province, with investments from Saudi Aramco and Exxon Mobil Corp.

Saudi Aramco is one of the biggest investors in the global refining push. The state-run firm has said it plans to spend $50 billion over the next five years on refineries in the kingdom as well as China, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States.