Plants & Equipment

Need to Know


Arguments about who is responsible for lube-plant line wash finding its way into applications where it causes harm often echo the oversimplified logic heard in debates about gun control. That is, line wash doesnt damage equipment – people who misuse line wash do.

Debates about guns will likely continue to rage on, but its clear from a measured analysis of industry dynamics that the major oil companies are working hard to get their line wash off the streets, and to assure what is sold is used in a responsible way.

Shells Bill McKnight, who handles quality regionally and globally as product manager, Americas, says, At Shell Lubricants, our first priority is ensuring that customers receive the quality products they expect from our trusted brands. During blending, we flush lines to retain our product integrity. We consider selling line wash a responsible, sustainable use of this manufacturing byproduct if its repurposed appropriately. Shell helps assure the responsible use of flush oil we sell by generating less for sale and enforcing its proper use.

Further, McKnight adds, Shell makes continuous, year-on-year improvement in reducing the amount of line wash it generates and sells. While upgrading fluid-handling at its largest facility (Houston), Shell decreased line-wash volumes by an estimated 30 percent, he notes, with a total line-wash reduction of 75 percent expected upon project completion and other initiatives. By mid next year, Shell projects line wash will account for 0.5 percent of its total blended product.

To enforce the proper use of flush oil after its sold, Shell flush-oil sales agreements and delivery documents state its not intended for sale as a finished lubricant or branded product and is subject to audit.

We understand buyers typically use flush oil as a blend component in hydraulic fluid, bar-and-chain oil or the like. If we had evidence that a buyer was misrepresenting flush oil as quality motor oil in the market, we would take action and stop that sale, McKnight states.

Similarly, Chevron Products Co. says its plants produce flush oil as a result of day-to-day manufacturing processes. Our marketers and customers depend on the purity and high performance of Chevron Lubricant formulations to succeed in their businesses, and flushing blending, packaging, and bulk-product lines is necessary to maintain product integrity, explains Doug Hinzie, the companys vice president, Americas, for finished lubricants.

Chevron consumes flush oil internally to produce lower-grade hydraulic oils and chain bar oils, and also sells it to blenders and recyclers for similar appropriate use. To assure this, Hinzie notes, flush oil is sold under contracts containing strict prohibitions against the resale under any Chevron brand name. Such contracts further require the purchasers of the flush oils to conduct their operations in strict compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

While Chevron says its confident its flush-oil buyers use it responsibly, it too is working to trim the volumes it produces, most significantly at its largest lubricant plant, in Port Arthur, Texas. Flush oil generated at this facility has dropped significantly over the past 18 months and additional reductions are coming, it says.

In Chevrons view, flush oil has reached an economic tipping point. When you consider the cost of base oils and additives, Hinzie says, it makes financial sense to convert to dedicated lines, more-robust pigging systems, and to make other hardware and procedural changes to reduce the volume of flush oil generated.

Although Phillips 66 says it sends only a small volume of flush oil into the merchant market, it has been striving to pare back even this amount. In fact, the company estimates the volume of flush oil it generates in 2012 will be 30 percent lower than it was two years ago. Sources there attribute this to investments made in both equipment and procedures. Further, it has additional projects under way that are ultimately expected to turn the spigot off on the limited volume it sells into the merchant market.

Phillips 66 officials sum up well the thoughts of Shell, Chevron and others, saying that while there are limits (some legal) on how much the majors can do to control or restrict the sale of line wash after it leaves their plants, they can control the volume they produce. And this has been and will continue to be their focus regarding line wash.

Its easy to point fingers at the majors who sell line wash into the merchant market, and to say they contribute to the low-quality, off-spec lubricants in the marketplace. Yet a fact-based dialogue with the majors makes it clear that most want to be part of the solution. They are working to reduce their line-wash output and to assure that what they sell is used responsibly.

That said, the good news is that we can expect the volume of flush oil entering the market to continue to decline to a point where the impact in the marketplace becomes negligible. But until then, we should keep our eyes open and ears to the rail – looking, listening and reporting on the misuse of line wash.