Chevron refinery fire may push gasoline higher

Aug. 7 (Bloomberg) -- A fire at Chevron Corp.’s Richmond oil refinery in California may push gasoline prices higher today as it disrupts fuel output at the state’s third-largest crude- processing plant.

Chevron’s 240,000-barrel-a-day refinery shut its No. 4 crude unit after the fire yesterday, Heather Kulp, a Richmond- based spokeswoman for Chevron, said early today. The fire is out, she said, and the plant is maintaining a small controlled burn at the crude unit to relieve pressure. Other units are operating at unknown levels, Kulp said.

“We don’t know how long the crude unit will be down, and they may have had to shut other refining units as well,” Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston, said in an electronic message today. “I expect that if several units shut, gasoline prices will spike at least 10 cents today” in California, he said.

California-blend gasoline in San Francisco gained 1.5 cents to 5.5 cents a gallon above futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday, data compiled by Bloomberg show. It rose as high as 14.75 cents on Aug. 2 from a discount of 12 cents on July 18.

“We really won’t know how big of a deal this Chevron fire is” until today’s trading starts, David Hackett, the president of Stillwater Associates in Irvine, California, an independent fuel consultant, said yesterday. “But first thing in the morning, people will start buying and selling and the market will pop up.”

No Estimate

Kulp said the refinery doesn’t have an estimate for when it will restart the crude unit. The No. 4 crude unit has a daily throughput capacity of 257,200 barrels a day, according to an Aug. 11, 2011, document on file with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Other process units at the refinery include a 64,800- barrel-a-day diesel hydrotreater, a 96,000-barrel-a-day jet hydrotreater, a 57,600-barrel-a-day naphtha hydrotreater, a 90,000-barrel-a-day fluid catalytic cracker plant and a 60,900- barrel-a-day isocracker, according to the document.

The fire in Richmond may have been caused by a leaking diesel line, Melissa Ritchie, a Richmond-based spokeswoman for Chevron said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. All employees at the refinery have been accounted for, and three employees were treated on site for minor injuries, Brent Tippen, a San Ramon, California-based Chevron spokesman, said in a phone interview today.

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