ECONOMY

ELPE puts off spring turnaround as refining margins get stronger

LONDON – Hellenic Petroleum has postponed the shutdown of its 140,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery at Aspropyrgos in Greece from mid-April until the second half of September as it seeks to take advantage of strong refining margins, a company official said yesterday. Refinery margins in Europe and the US recently hit historic highs as fears over Middle East supply disruption and strong US gasoline demand have ramped up oil products prices. Hellenic’s delayed turnaround follows a similar move by Algerian state-owned company Sonatrach, which also cited high profit margins as the reason for delaying the partial shutdown of its 335,000bpd Skikda refinery to early June from April. The Aspropyrgos refinery is equipped with a 42,000bpd catalytic cracker and a 10,000bpd reformer, both making gasoline. Hellenic had planned to shut down units at the refinery on a rolling schedule from April 18 until the end of May. Greece is a net exporter of gasoline, jet fuel and fuel oil. Upgraded Mediterranean refineries cracking Urals crude enjoyed margins of $5.07 a barrel last month, rising to $6.32 so far this month, compared with $3.05 a barrel in March, according to Reuters data. The bumper profits have come as gasoline prices surged to a record peak of $470 a ton on the benchmark Rotterdam barge market, while European jet fuel cargoes have surged by 30 percent in the past six weeks to around $395 a ton. While Hellenic holds off maintenance work, other regional refiners are gradually restarting their units after a round of spring turnaround programs. Plants regularly carry out maintenance in the spring when heating oil demand drops as temperatures rise, and well ahead of peak summer gasoline demand. This year the turnaround season has extended into early summer as some refiners delay work due to strong margins, while others bring their fuel specifications into line with new US requirements and European Union rules effective next year. Italian refiner Agip said yesterday that its 160,000-barrel-per-day Sannazzaro refinery was running at full capacity after completing maintenance work on a hydrocracker 10 days ago. The hydrocracking capacity at the plant is around 30,000bpd. The turnaround at the unit, which makes components used in gasoline and distillate blending, lasted 20 days, a company official said. Independent refiner Saras has been bringing its export-oriented 310,000-barrels-per-day Sardinian refinery back to normal production this month after shutting several units since early March. In the Ukraine, Kherson restarted its 66,000bpd refinery last week after completion of repair work on its primary refining and gasoline units. Israeli refiner ORL this month shut down its 100,000-barrel-per-day crude distillation unit at its 170,000 Haifa refinery for a month of scheduled maintenance.