Strategic Maintenance of Oil Refineries Increases Efficiency and Safety, Not Cost

Most people don’t realize the intricate, highly efficient way energy sources are developed and delivered to keep our communities moving. While original sources of energy such as crude oil, natural gas or solar energy might be top of mind in the energy value chain, the reality is there is a lot that happens to make very specific forms of energy viable for all the countless ways in which we need it. A key element to that process is in the refining stage.

Petroleum refineries play a critical role in providing safe, reliable and affordable energy to society. They do so by converting crude oil into specific types of energy that can be used for transportation fuels, heating, paving roads, generating electricity, as well as developing feedstocks for making chemicals. And their operations – especially in California – run with extreme safety and efficiency under some of the world’s strictest compliance regulations.

The refining process is impressive, and the refining process doesn’t always get the credit it deserves in getting us all the energy sources we all need. In fact, industry opponents often go so far as to claim that refinery maintenance is a major cause of driving up costs, even when the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s statistical analysis of outages indicates that generally there is not a significant cost impact. The misinformation rhetoric is not only incorrect, it’s dangerous.

Refineries are continuously implementing innovative new processes and technologies to become more sustainable, and currently run at close to maximum capacity throughout the year.

The 13 producing refineries in California regularly enact planned, regulated maintenance – ranging from daily checks to planned shutdowns for system upgrades every 3-5 years in order to meet California’s increasing energy demand with ever-cleaner fuel products and ever-safer refineries.

Maintenance is a good thing. And opponents attempting to link regulated refinery maintenance that drives increased efficiency and safety to intentional cost increases is both ironic and disappointing. Let’s dig a little deeper on the benefits of regular, planned refinery maintenance:

· They are safe: California refineries make safety a top priority and continually invest in maintenance, programs, training and equipment to protect the health and safety of their workforce, communities and the environment. They have fewer worker injuries than most industry sectors, employ a highly qualified and skilled workforce and go beyond regulatory compliance to increase safety and efficiency.

· They are efficient: Refining maintenance drives increased sustainability and overall efficiency through system upgrades, new processes and employee training. These planned maintenance events support the development of lower carbon fuels and products, water and energy saving operations and save time and costs for future refining.

· They are extremely compliant: Under the current regulatory framework, and self-imposed safety measures, California leads the nation in protecting the safety and health of refinery workers and communities. In 2017, a robust overhaul of refinery safety regulations was led by the Department of Industrial Relations, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Environmental Protection Agency, assuring ultimate regulatory alignment.

The unfortunate reality is that because of California’s declining refinery capacity – and the overall reduction in oil and gas production due to this Administration’s irresponsible energy policies – our state is more vulnerable to changes in fuel supply, which could increase costs.

Over the last three decades, California refinery capacity has declined by 16%, while refining capacity for rest of the U.S. has increased by 19%. That alone can affect market dynamics and thus could impact costs. Ongoing refinery maintenance contributes to increased efficiency, sustainability, safety and employee well-being – not to increased cost.

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