In the old days (meaning the 1940s) there still many small "prairie dog" oil refineries, that were little more than a bunch of hooch stills soldered together, but from what I understand these are all gone now and there are only a handful of oil refineries in the United States.

Are there still small refineries in the United States or have they been regulated out of existence?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ They are totally noncompetitive economically, since they can't do all the cracking and rearranging of chain lengths that is now standard. Just separating out the different chain lengths is not enough nowadays. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Sep 18 '18 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ Probably not in the US, but who knows what has survived in other parts of the world? I'll agree with Jon and doubt it, however. $\endgroup$ – Karl Sep 18 '18 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ There are still small operations but they don't have complex capabilities. They may separate nat gas and LPG and sell the remainder ( may be called a topping plant) . They may separate naptha, diesel, then sell the remainder. Even among regular "refineries" there are large variations in capabilities. Some do not have reformers, some do not have hydrocrackers , etc. So the answer partly depends on what you call a refinery. $\endgroup$ – blacksmith37 Sep 18 '18 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ The question probably is whether (how much) you can reduce transport costs by such a "preprocessing" refinery. $\endgroup$ – Karl Sep 18 '18 at 19:51

Any collection of 'hooch stills' that were soldered (?) together would probably have been uneconomical almost as soon as they were built, because welding together a series of serviceable fractional distillation towers is not that technologically advanced and much more efficient. However, there are certainly a number of relatively small refineries.

For instance, about the largest refinery in the U.S. (for comparison) is Exxon's in Baytown, TX that has a capacity of 560,000 barrels per day.

A couple of the smallest ones are the 5000 bbl/day refinery in Wyoming (Silver Eagle, in Evanston) and the 2000 bbl/day Foreland Refinery in Ely, NV. The latter (if run all day) is equivalent to around 1.5 barrels a minute.

Also (to respond to a comment) there are still some refineries that don't do catalytic cracking (probably just straight distillation of the petroleum into fractions, which is viable for small refiners because they can save on expensive (and often proprietary) cracking units and are small enough that they can sell all the fractions that they produce. The recently closed Flint Hill refinery in Alaska used another approach, reinjecting unused fractions back into the TransAlaska pipeline.)

For a list of refineries, the EIA is always a good place to look (pdf warning).

A wiki on refineries is "A Barrel Full" which has detailed information on individual refineries.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.