“We’re not completely running at max because we are still being very careful with our supply chain,” Valero Energy Corp. told analysts during its first quarter earnings call April 22.
Some refineries like Exxon Mobil Corp. Beaumont and Total SE Port Arthur on the Texas Gulf Coast are pushing rates higher toward full production for the first time in more than a year. But after 12 months of running at reduced rates, postponing maintenance and enduring winter storms, some units like the gasoline-making fluid catalytic crackers are balking at producing normally again.
Total Port Arthur, Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas and Phillips 66 Alliance in Louisiana have struggled to either get their FCC units to restart after shutdowns or keep them in operation. At other refineries like BP Plc.’s Whiting plant in Indiana, other units like cokers are breaking down. Still, if refiners don’t try and run full out, they risk missing out on improved demand and better margins
“Refiners will come and run and if they break, if they break, that is the risk,” said Amrita Sen, head of research and co-founder of London energy consultancy Energy Aspects.
It’s also not clear how robust of a summer driving season refiners can expect. Demand is already looking stronger than 2020 with more people getting vaccines, returning to the office and planning long-postponed vacations. Energy Aspects says margins are still not near five-year averages and predicts U.S. gasoline supplies, which refineries try to manage to keep pace with demand expectations, won’t peak until December.