Beaumont-ian Rhapsody? Exxon's Gulf Coast Refinery Investments Underpin U.S. Expansion

ExxonMobil earlier this month told analysts in New York that the company expects to add a total of 400 Mb/d of capacity to its three giant Gulf Coast refineries by 2025. Exxon plans to upgrade existing refineries in Houston (Baytown) and Baton Rouge, LA, to increase production of higher-value products and to add a new crude distillation unit to its 362-Mb/d Beaumont, TX, plant after 2020. A final investment decision on the Beaumont expansion — which reportedly would double the refinery’s throughput capacity and make it the largest refinery in the U.S. — is expected later this year and follows a $6 billion investment by Exxon to triple crude output from its Permian Basin production assets in West Texas. Today, we discuss the existing Beaumont operation, its feedstock sources, and the refined-product demand that supports the plant’s expansion.

Largest U.S. Refinery

Doubling the Beaumont refinery’s capacity by adding a new crude distillation unit to process an additional 300-400 Mb/d would make Beaumont the largest refinery in the U.S.; it would overtake the nearby Saudi Aramco-owned 635 Mb/d Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, TX (that itself underwent a $10 billion expansion in 2013 to add 325 Mb/d of capacity). The proposed Beaumont expansion would represent significant new investment in the domestic refining sector by a firm that sold its interest in two refineries in Louisiana and California to PBF Energy in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It’s yet another indication of how rapidly expanding shale production is changing the U.S. energy landscape. Less than a year ago, in June 2017, we described how refinery capacity additions in the next five years are mostly expected to be in Asia and the Middle East, where product demand is expanding rapidly (see Can’t You Hear Me Knocking). Now, growing Permian crude production and a thriving export market for refined products from the Gulf Coast have persuaded at least one major oil company to consider changing that mindset.

The existing Beaumont refinery can process up to 362 Mb/d of crude feedstock. An expansion in 2016 added 20 Mb/d of light crude processing capacity and a similar project is expected to add another 40 Mb/d this year. The refinery is situated next to two chemical plants (one steam cracker and one polyethylene plant) as well as a specialty lubricants facility. Beaumont is one of four refineries in the Beaumont/Port Arthur region near the Texas/Louisiana border that together have over 1.5 MMb/d of capacity. The refinery is part of Exxon’s fleet of five U.S. refineries — the others being the 561-Mb/d Baytown plant in Houston, a 502-Mb/d plant in Baton Rouge, LA; a 239-Mb/d plant in Joliet, IL; and a 62-Mb/d plant in Billings, MT.

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