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Petroleum refining in the United States

ExxonMobil oil refinery in Baton Rouge (the fifth-largest in the United States)[1]
Anacortes Refinery (Marathon), on the north end of March Point southeast of Anacortes, Washington

Petroleum refining in the United States in 2013 produced 18.9 million barrels per day of refined petroleum products, more than any other country.[2] Although the US was the world's largest net importer of refined petroleum products as recently as 2008, the US became a net exporter in 2010, and in 2014 was the largest exporter and the largest net exporter of refined petroleum.[3] As of January 2018, there were 135 operating refineries in the US, distributed among 30 states.[4]

Largest petroleum refining companies in the United States

Rank Corporation Barrels/Day No. of US Refineries States
1 Marathon Petroleum 2,982,915 16 AK, CA, IL, KY, LA, MI, MN, ND, NM, OH, TX, UT, WA
2 Valero Energy 2,160,300 13 CA, LA, OK, TN, TX
3 Exxon Mobil 1,728,744 5 IL, LA, MT, TX
4 Phillips 66 1,653,900 9 CA, LA, MT, NJ, OK, TX, WA
5 Chevron 1,031,700 5 CA, MS, TX, UT
6 PBF Energy 865,000 6 CA, DE, LA, NJ, OH
7 Shell 820,962 6 AL, CA, LA, WA
8 PDV 754,765 3 IL, LA, TX
9 BP 646,500 3 AK, IN, WA
10 Koch 629,000 2 MN, TX
11 Motiva 603,000 1 TX
Total operable atmospheric crude oil distillation capacity as of 1 January 2018 adjusted for Marathon acquisition of Andeavor[5] and Chevron acquisition of Pasadena refinery[6]. Source:[7]

Largest petroleum refineries in the United States

Rank Refinery Barrels/Day Owner State
1 Port Arthur Refinery 603,000 Motiva Enterprises TX
2 Galveston Bay Refinery 571,000 Marathon Petroleum TX
3 Baytown Refinery 560,500 Exxon Mobil TX
4 Garyville Refinery 556,000 Marathon Petroleum LA
5 Baton Rouge Refinery 502,500 Exxon Mobil LA
6 Lake Charles Refinery 418,000 CITGO LA
7 Whiting Refinery 413,500 BP IN
8 Beaumont Refinery 365,644 Exxon Mobil TX
9 Pascagoula Refinery 352,000 Chevron MS
10 Wood River Refinery 336,000 Phillips 66 & Cenovus Energy IL
Total operable atmospheric crude oil distillation capacity as of 1 January 2018. Source:[7]


The first known US petroleum refiner was Samuel Kier of Pittsburgh, who in the 1850s produced an illuminating oil for miners' lamps.

American petroleum refining largely grew out of oil shale refining. When the Drake Well started producing in 1859, the oil shale industry was growing rapidly, and establishing refineries near cannel coal deposits along the Ohio River Valley. As oil production increased, the oil shale refiners discovered that their refining process worked just as well with petroleum, and that petroleum was a cheaper raw material than shale oil. In 1861, the existing oil shale refiners switched to petroleum feedstock, and the oil shale mines shut down.

In the 1800s, the principal refined product was kerosene for illuminating oil. The heaviest fraction was used as lubricating oil. A market developed for fuel oil as it was discovered that petroleum was superior to coal in powering the large engines of ships and railroad locomotives.

The popularity of the automobile in the early 1900s created a mass market for gasoline, and a shortage soon developed of the lighter gasoline fractions of crude oil. The shortage was solved by the invention of the catalytic cracker, which broke long hydrocarbon chains into smaller molecules.


USEIA - Map of US Oil Refineries

Most large refineries are near navigable waterways, especially seaports or Great Lakes ports. The single largest concentration of refineries is along the Gulf Coast.[8] Although there are refineries in 30 states, just three states dominate US refining: Texas (47 operating refineries), Louisiana (19), and California (18). As of January 2015, these three states contain 45% of all US refineries and 59% of all US refining capacity.[9]


The three largest-volume products of US refineries are gasoline, fuel oil (including diesel fuel and home heating oil), and aviation fuel, which together make up more than 84 percent of output.[10]

Byproduct sulfurEdit

Petroleum refineries recover elemental sulfur as a byproduct. In 2012, US oil refineries recovered 7.4 million metric tons of sulfur, worth about $915 million, and amounting to 88% of the elemental sulfur produced in the US.[11]

International tradeEdit

Net US exports (exports minus imports) of refined petroleum products, 1980-2013. Data from OPEC

The United States was for decades, through 2008, the world's largest net importer of refined petroleum products. But the situation quickly changed in 2008 as American refineries became much more cost-competitive due to large increases in US production of oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids. The US became a net exporter of refined petroleum in 2010, and since 2013 has been the world's largest net exporter of refined petroleum. In 2014, the US exported 3.83 million barrels per day and imported 1.35 million barrels per day of refined petroleum, for net exports of 2.48 million barrels per day.[12] The largest net importers of US refined products in 2017 were, in descending order: Mexico, Brazil, Japan, China, and Singapore.[13]

The competitive advantage of US refiners has been attributed to the lower price of American crude oil, as reflected by the Oklahoma-based index price West Texas Intermediate, versus the more expensive European-based index price Brent Crude. Due to the great surge in American production of oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids since 2008, those products have been cheaper in the North American market than worldwide, giving American refiners a major cost advantage.[14] The discount on US crude is partially attributed to the long-standing federal ban on exports of American crude oil.[15]

European Union refiners have been hard-hit by the growth in US exports. They lost much of their previous gasoline exports to the US, and also market share in the worldwide market to the newly competitive US refineries. In addition, US refineries have increasingly exported petroleum products to the EU. In 2008, US exports of gas oil (home heating fuel) surged to a 31% market share in the EU, up from 5% the previous year; in 2011, US imports held a 37% market share of gasoil in the EU.[16] There has been discussion that EU refineries would have to shut down without government intervention. [17]


  1. ^ "U.S. Energy Information Administration: Top 10 U.S. Refineries Operable Capacity". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  2. ^ OPEC, Statistical Bulletin, 2014
  3. ^ OPEC, Annual Statistical Bulletin, 2015.
  4. ^ "When was the last refinery built in the United States? - FAQ - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  5. ^ "Marathon completes Andeavor acquisition". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  6. ^ "Chevron closes deal for Petrobras's Pasadena refinery, assets". Retrieved 2019-05-24.
  7. ^ a b US Energy Information Administration, Table 5, 2018.
  8. ^ US Energy Information Administration, Much of the country’s refinery capacity is concentrated along the Gulf Coast, 19 July, 2012.
  9. ^ US Energy Information Administration, Refining capacity by state.
  10. ^ US Energy Information Administration, Refinery Yield accessed 26 July 2015.
  11. ^ Lori E. Apodaca, Sulfur, US Geological Survey, 2012 Minerals Yearbook, Feb. 2015.
  12. ^ OPEC, Data Download, Tables 5.4 and 5.7, 2014.
  13. ^ U.S. Energy Information Administration, Net imports of products int the U.S. by country, Accessed 21 Jan. 2019.
  14. ^ Nicolas Sakelaris, "How the shale boom translates into big profits for US refineries," Dallas Business Journal, 5 June 2014.
  15. ^ Ed Crooks, "US oil refiners face battle to prolong halcyon days," Financial Times, 17 Aug. 2014.
  16. ^ Chris Beddoes, "Competitiveness of European refining," 6th Oil Forum of the Energy Community, 30 Sept. 2014.
  17. ^ Tara Patel, "French refineries at risk as demand weakens, industry lobby says," Bloomberg, 10 Mar. 2015.

External linksEdit