The third-biggest refinery in the U.S. suffered a fire Saturday near Houston, hours after a Los Angeles plant was partially shut by a blaze, potentially boosting gasoline prices from Texas to California.
Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Baytown, Texas, refinery was fighting a furnace fire at a gasoline hydrofiner, which removes sulfur from fuel to meet clear-air regulations, people familiar with the matter said. Phillips 66 shut a crude unit Friday night at its Carson plant after a fire.
The fires, which come at a time when gasoline inventories are in decline with a number of refineries closed for seasonal maintenance, threaten to further increase gasoline pump prices that have already risen 31 cents a gallon since early January to edge above year-ago levels.
Los Angeles prices are especially sensitive to disruptions at local refineries because the area relies on a special California-blended fuel, and the state is largely isolated from the bulk of the U.S. refining system.
The crude unit remains shut for a damage assessment and the company doesn’t want to speculate on how long it will be down, Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said Saturday in an email. The rest of the Carson and Wilmington plants continue to operate, he said. Exxon’s emergency response teams are working to put out the fire in Texas, company spokeswoman Sarah Nordin said in an email. There were no injuries reported in either incident.Carson Fire
The California fire occurred at about 7:30 p.m. local time Friday, was “knocked down” about two hours later and eventually put out at around 10:30 p.m., said Michael Pittman, a supervising firefighter at the Los Angeles county fire department.
Crude oil leaked from a reflux line resulting in the fire, although the exact cause is being investigated, Phillips 66 said in a filing to California regulators. Firefighters arrived at the facility and found crude pumps burning, and set about ensuring that the flow of oil ceased, Pittman said.
In December, wholesale prices in the area surged to their highest relative to New York futures in three years after disruptions at two refineries in the area. Pump prices in Los Angeles were $3.37 a gallon as of Saturday, compared with the nationwide average of $2.54 nationwide, according to AAA. Houston prices were $2.34 a gallon.
Exxon’s Baytown refinery, which can process 560,500 barrels a day of crude oil into gasoline, diesel and other fuels, is conducting maintenance on its largest crude unit and related units that was expected to continue through March, according to people familiar with the matter. It trails Motiva Enterprises LLC’s Port Arthur and Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Galveston Bay refineries, also in Texas, as the nation’s largest.
Phillips 66’s entire Los Angeles refinery system includes plants at Wilmington and Carson with a combined capacity of 139,000 barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.