Wonder how long before politicians blame rising gasoline prices on “gouging”? Doubtless they will not acknowledge supply constraints like that caused by this catastrophic, although apparently fortunately injury-free incident at Shell/Aramco’s newly expanded Texas refinery.
In the end, all it took was a small chemical spill — perhaps less than a barrelful — to bring down the newest, mightiest oil refinery in the United States.
Three weeks ago, while workers repaired a minor leak at the Port Arthur, Texas plant owned by Motiva Enterprises, a few gallons a day of so-called “caustic” was inadvertently seeping into the newly built crude distillation unit (CDU), the 30-story-high network of interconnected cylinders and latticed pipelines at the heart of the refining process.
While harmless when mixed with crude, the undiluted caustic vaporized into an invisible but devastating agent of corrosion as the chamber heated up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit ( 370 Celsius); t he chemical gas raced through key units, fouled huge heaters and corroded thousands of feet of stainless steel pipe.
Now, just weeks after they commissioned the biggest U.S. refinery project in a decade, two of the world’s biggest oil titans — Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco , which own Motiva — are rushing to repair the potentially billion-dollar glitch that has added an embarrassing and costly coda to a landmark $10 billion expansion.
After a five-year effort to double the plant’s capacity, making it the largest in the country, they must now reassemble many of the same people and parts for a blitzkrieg fix that may exceed the original $300 million cost of the unit: corrosion experts are flying in from across the world; hundreds of workers are being hired; bespoke 30-inch (75-c m) stain less steel pipelines and 30-story cranes may need to be obtained quickly, according to sources involved in the repairs.
Sources familiar with the effort provided Reuters with the most detailed account yet of what officials believe went wrong at the 325,000-barrels-per-day (bpd) unit known as vacuum pipestill-5 (VPS-5), showing how a series of seemingly minor glitches crippled the vast plant.