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US refinery runs decline

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Transportation fuel demand has decreased since early March 2020 as a result of reduced economic activity and stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). US refineries have reduced the amount of crude oil and other inputs that they process (also known as refinery runs).

US refinery runs fell for four consecutive weeks, reaching 12.8 million bpd in the week ending 17 April, and increased slightly to 13.2 million bpd for the week ending 24 April, or nearly 21% lower than the previous five-year average for this time of year.

From 13 March (when a national emergency was declared in the US) to 24 April, finished motor gasoline consumption (measured as product supplied) fell to 5.1 million bpd in the week ending 3 April, the least product supplied recorded since the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) began tracking these data in 1991. In the weeks since then, gasoline product supplied has risen to 5.9 million bpd, or about 37% lower than the previous five-year average for late April.

Jet fuel product supplied set a record low during the week of 10 April, falling to 463 000 bpd. Jet fuel product supplied increased during the past two weeks, averaging 800 000 bpd for the week ending 24 April, or 51% lower than the previous five-year average.

Initially, demand for distillate was not as affected as demand for motor gasoline and jet fuel. From 13 March to 3 April, distillate fuel product supplied remained within the previous five-year range. Since 3 April, however, distillate product supplied fell to its lowest level in 21 years of 2.8 million bpd for the week of 10 April. Since then, distillate fuel product supplied has increased slightly and averaged 3.2 million bpd for the week ending 24 April.

Distillate fuel oil is primarily consumed as diesel fuel, the predominant fuel of the trucking, locomotive, and agricultural sectors. Increased demand for home delivery and distribution of necessary goods and services has likely supported the distillate product supplied. Recent declines in broad economic activity may be reducing overall distillate demand, despite some support from trucking activity.

As refinery runs have fallen, refiners have also changed the mix of petroleum products they are producing. Normally (based on the 2019 average), a barrel of crude oil and other inputs will yield 51% motor gasoline, 31% distillate, and 11% jet fuel. US refiners have recently decreased their production of motor gasoline and jet fuel and increased their production of distillate.

US refiner production of motor gasoline fell from 7.9 million bpd for the week ending13 March to 5.4 million bpd for the week ending 24 April. Production of jet fuel fell from 1.6 million bpd to 601 000 bpd during the same period, but production of distillate fuel oil increased from 4.7 million bpd to 4.9 million bpd.

The ratio of distillate production divided by crude oil inputs, also known as the distillate yield, reached 40% for the week ending 17 April, the highest percentage yield of distillate since at least 1990 when data on refinery inputs started being collected by EIA. Distillate yields fell slightly, to 39%, in the following week. Motor gasoline yields were at a record low of 43% in the week ending 24 April.

Principal contributors: Corrina Ricker, Matt French

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