Fire Knocks Out Ergon Hydrotreater


Fire damaged Ergon Inc.s refinery in Vicksburg, Miss., last week, sidelining the biggest U.S. source of naphthenic base oil for four to five weeks.

Industry sources said the downtime will squeeze a naphthenic market that was already tight.

Theres no question this will have a big impact, said one refiner and marketer, who spoke on condition that he not be identified. Weve already been contacted by a number of their customers but we, Im sure like other naphthenic producers, are always sold out. Were over-committed, in fact. The only way to help them is to take product from other markets.

The fire broke out about 1 a.m. April 30 in an oil heater inside a flue-gas stack, according to an article in The Clarion-Ledger, of Jackson, Miss. The blaze remained contained to the heater, although firefighters needed three hours to put it out. An Ergon employee was injured helping to fight the fire but refused to go to the hospital, the newspaper reported.

An Ergon employee, who did not identify herself, said the fire damaged the refinerys hydrotreater and that production will cease completely until repairs are made, a process expected to take four or five weeks.

The Vicksburg refinery has capacity to produce 8,300 barrels per day, making it the largest naphthenic base oil source in the United States, with 21 percent of the markets total capacity.

Sources said Ergon has already contacted other naphthenic refiners seeking help to supply its customers. The Jackson, Miss., company will likely find it difficult to fill its orders. Naphthenic supply was already tight, due to last years closure of the Golden Bear Oil Specialties refinery in Oildale, Calif., unscheduled shutdowns at Valeros Three Rivers, Texas, refinery and disruptions in Ergons crude oil supply.

Suppliers said they have raised prices significantly in recent weeks and encountered no resistance from customers.

Some suppliers may be able to hold back on exports to try to meet the shortfall that this will cause, the refiner/marketer who spoke on condition of anonymity said. But Im sure that some people just wont find what theyre counting on. In some cases, people may be able to switch to paraffinic base stocks. But formulation changes can be a mess.

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