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Chevron continues recovery from August refinery fire

Things are not back to normal at the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery following an August 16 fire, although attempts to restart several process units previously shut down have been successful.

Facility spokesman Steve Renfroe says no dollar amount has been determined for the damage to the number two crude unit where damage was largely isolated. Based on preliminary findings, it could take several months to complete repairs to the unit.

The Jackson County facility is Chevron’s largest wholly-owned petroleum refinery and processes an average of 330,000 barrels of crude oil per day. It also produces a variety of transportation fuels and other refined products.

Asked about the fire’s impact to supply and demand of its products, Renfroe says Chevron is working to minimize the impact on the refinery’s crude suppliers.

“We expect some crude shipments to be affected, but the company has covered all its supply requirements and fully anticipates meeting customers’ expectations and product commitments,” he says. “Some crude shipments may be cancelled or rerouted to other refineries in the company’s global network. Chevron is seeking to optimize the utilization of the refinery while repairs are being made.”

Asked about any effect from the refinery’s diminished output on the price of automobile gasoline, the spokesman says the company does not control gasoline prices and can’t predict when they will rise or decline.

Mike Odom, branch manager of the Pascagoula office of investment firm A.G. Edwards, says he’s heard analysts mention the Pascagoula refinery fire quite a few times.

“Any interruption in production causes concern, but I don’t think it will be anything long lasting, especially if we don’t have any hurricanes this year,” he says. “These refineries run at 95% capacity so there’s little room for error.”

The refinery fire aside, Odom thinks oil prices will continue to rise, but says his firm likes Chevron stock for investments.

Joe Sims, president of the Mississippi/Alabama Division of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association, doesn’t believe the reduced production capacity in Pascagoula will have any effect on the supply of refined oil.

“I haven’t seen anything about it in the trade publications that indicate any negative effects,” he says. “Nationally, I don’t think it will have any impact.”

The cause of the blaze has not been determined, but a thorough investigation is being conducted with coordination with local, state and federal agencies.

“The cause is still under investigation, and I won’t venture a guess as to what caused it,” Renfroe says of the blaze which erupted at 2:15 p.m. August 16. “It was contained and burned itself out by about 8:30 that night.”

He says there was never any threat to the surrounding area from the blaze that lit up the sky for miles.

“The community was not affected or harmed in any way. There was no threat at any time,” he adds. “The event received a great deal of news coverage, but that was a good thing. It was the best way to get the word out that there was no danger.”

All 1,350 refinery employees and contractors were accounted for soon after the fire started and there were no injuries. At this time, all employees continue to work at the facility. Renfroe praises the refinery’s emergency response team for their efforts.

“The response team is made up of 120 highly-trained and well-equipped people,” he said. “They did what they were supposed to do and successfully put out the fire and contained it.”

The Pascagoula facility is part of Chevron’s worldwide network of subsidiaries operating in 180 countries. Headquartered in San Ramon, Calif., the company produces and transports crude oil and natural gas along with other energy-related activities.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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