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Some refinery maintenance planned for the second quarter at US refineries may be delayed as the strike by United Steelworkers continues into its sixth week and personnel who are manning the plants are unable to make the necessary preparations to work on the units, sources said.

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Already, Motiva has pushed back work planned on several units at its 600,000 b/d Port Arthur refinery in Texas, the nation's largest, due to lack of preparation time, a source familiar with refinery operations there said.

"Motiva's reactions are logical and I would expect similar actions by others," said John Auers, executive vice President of Dallas-based consultants Turner, Mason & Company.

"This is based on the fact that engineers, [turnaround] planners, and other salaried personnel who would be involved with planning and executing maintenance and capital activities are preoccupied with helping to operate the refineries," Auers said.

The strike by the USW began February 1 when workers at 15 facilities, including refineries and chemical plants, walked out. The only plant to shut because of the strike was Tesoro's 166,000 b/d Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez, California. Other strike-hit refineries remain operational as management and other personnel perform work normally done by striking workers.

Cognizant of the labor tension, some refiners had planned their work accordingly. Delta Airlines' Monroe Energy unit began planned work on February 12 on the naphtha unit at its 185,000 b/d refinery in Trainer, Pennsylvania, with plans to bring it back up before its contract with local USW workers expired on March 1, a source familiar with refinery operations there said. While refiners generally plan scheduled work on their units ahead of time, they have some latitude when the work needs to be done, sometimes letting profit margins dictate when to start. Few refiners like to take units offline when margins on gasoline and diesel are strong.

Auers noted that margins are very good now -- "which I expect to continue as we head into the driving season, [and] certainly contributes and helps support the plans to delay the downtimes."

Platts data shows LLS cracking netback margins along the US Gulf Coast, home to over half of the nation's refinery capacity, are up so far this quarter compared with same period last year -- at $12.81/barrel compared to $12.37/b.

Imported crudes show more of a lift, with Arab Medium cracking netback margins at $7.99/b so far in the quarter, compared with the $3.38/b seen last year at this time.

Refinery work planned in the second quarter is relatively light for crude units and gasoline-making fluid catalytic cracking units, a recent report from the US Department of Energy showed.

The report shows most refiners planned work for the first quarter. No work was planned along the East Coast in Q2, while maintenance in Midwestern refineries would take 4% of CDU capacity offline in April and 3% in May.

Planned work in the second quarter on the Gulf Coast was mostly on FCC units, with 3% of capacity offline in April and May, and 1% offline in June, the report showed.


Refinery owner: CHS
Refinery location: McPherson, Kansas
Unit: n/a
Duration: March 6-April 16

Refinery owner: Flint Hills Resources
Refinery location: Rosemount, Minnesota
Unit: n/a
Duration: April 13-May 15

Refinery owner: Motiva
Refinery location: Port Arthur, Texas
Units: vacuum pipestill, catalytic reformer #4, hydrotreater, two lube units
Duration: May 30-June 30

Refinery owner: Valero
Refinery location: Port Arthur, Texas
Unit: CDU (75,000 b/d)
Duration: April 25-June 15

--Janet McGurty,
--Edited by Kevin Saville,