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ExxonMobil considers $1.3-billion investment at UK refinery site

October 20, 2017
Chemical Value Chain

ExxonMobil is considering plans to spend more than £1 billion ($1.32 billion) to upgrade the United Kingdom’s largest refinery complex at Fawley, OPIS understands.

The money would be spent on overhauling the refinery’s catalytic cracker in 2018 and building up to two new plants at the refinery site in 2019, sources say. At least one of the new plants could be a chemical facility, one source adds. Current petrochemical operations at the site include methyl ethyl ketone, higher olefins and butyl rubber.

If confirmed, the investment would represent the largest refinery upgrade in monetary terms ever seen in the United Kingdom. ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly listed oil company, has made no suggestion in public that it is considering a UK investment of this magnitude.

The project would follow a $35-million investment to build an isoparaffinic fluids production plant at Fawley this year—the first new production line built at the site since the 1980s. Some of the proposed work at the refinery may be in preparation for a 2020 bunker fuel specification change from 3.5% to 0.5%, according to the downstream team at IHS Markit.

A spokesperson for ExxonMobil declined to comment, citing company policy on discussing turnarounds and investments.

The Fawley refinery has a 270,000-b/d crude processing capacity. The plant forms a critical part of the United Kingdom’s energy infrastructure because of its links to the nation’s largest cities and airports. About 85% of the refinery’s output is pumped through underground pipelines as far away as London, Birmingham, and Bristol. Pipelines connect the refinery to London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Diesel represents 29% of Fawley’s output and gasoline, jet fuel, and naphtha make up 28%, 11%, and 9% respectively of the refinery’s output. An overhaul scheduled for 2018 would be the first large maintenance at Fawley in two years.
OPIS revealed in January 2017 that the refinery’s two crude distillation units would have outages between February and May, but the disruption to product supply was limited. “The impact on production will be minimal,” said a source at the time. “Procedures are in place to limit” the effect. In March 2016, several sources at the refinery site told OPIS that a much larger turnaround at Fawley was running behind schedule and would last three weeks longer than expected.

By Anthony Lane, OPIS; and Spencer Welch, IHS Markit

Source: Chemical Week

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