U.S. Oil Refining Industry: Background in Changing Markets and Fuel Policies [November 22, 2010]   [open pdf - 2MB]

"A decade ago, 158 refineries operated in the United States and its territories and sporadic refinery outages led many policy makers to advocate new refinery construction. Fears that crude oil production was in decline also led to policies promoting alternative fuels and increased vehicle fuel efficiency. Since the summer 2008 peak in crude oil prices, however, the U.S. demand for refined petroleum products has declined, and the outlook for the petroleum refining industry in the United States has changed. In response to weak demand for gasoline and other refined products, refinery operators have begun cutting back capacity, idling, and, in a few cases, permanently closing their refineries. By current count, 124 refineries now produce fuel in addition to 13 refineries that produce lubricating oils and asphalt. Even as the number of refineries has decreased, operable refining capacity has actually increased over the past decade, from 16.5 million barrels/day to over 18 million barrels/day. Cyclical economic factors aside, U.S. refiners now face the potential of long-term decreased demand for their products. This is the result of legislative and regulatory efforts that were originally intended, in part, to accommodate the growing demand for petroleum products, but which may now displace some of that demand. These efforts include such policies as increasing the volume of ethanol in the gasoline supply, improving vehicle fuel efficiency, and encouraging the purchase of vehicles powered by natural gas or electricity."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R41478
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