Motiva Enterprises plans to begin restarting a crude distillation unit at its 600,000 bpd Port Arthur, Texas, refinery next week after it was shut in June to repair massive corrosion from a chemical leak, sources familiar with the refinery said on Wednesday.
Motiva has wrapped up the repairs and is in the process of transferring control of the unit to operations staff this week, the sources said.
The company, a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco, was forced to shut the giant new 325,000-bpd crude distillation unit (CDU) at the refinery in June after discovering cracked piping on a massive scale in the cornerstone unit of a five-year, $10-billion expansion project.
Motiva plans to have the unit, VPS-5, in production by the end of December, the sources said.
Motiva had said repairs were expected to finish sometime between late November and early December, with VPS-5 back in production by the first quarter of 2013.
If VPS-5 remains in operation into the new year, Motiva also plans to take one of the old crude units and a coking unit down for planned overhauls about midway through the first quarter, the sources said.
A Motiva representative was not immediately available to discuss operations at the refinery.
Motiva has not disclosed the price tag for repairs, but analysts have estimated the cost at between $300 million and $1 billion.
The new CDU was the centerpiece of the expansion that pushed the plant’s overall capacity to 600,000 bpd, surpassing Exxon Mobil Corp’s 560,500-bpd Baytown, Texas, refinery as the country’s largest.
But an influx of a corrosive chemical, during what workers thought was a brief, routine shutdown of the newly built CDU, cracked and ruined thousands of feet of pipe and other critical parts.
After the extent of damage from a leak of caustic sodium hydroxide into VPS-5 was discovered, estimates of the length of time needed for repairs ranged from six months to a year. Sodium hydroxide is used in small amounts to prevent heavy, sour crude oil, which VPS-5 is made to refine, from fouling the unit.
Motiva and its co-owners moved quickly to assemble needed replacement piping and staff to undertake repairs, which affected the atmospheric distillation section of VPS-5.