ExxonMobil’s affiliate Esso Belgium, a division of ExxonMobil Petroleum & Chemical B.V.B.A., announced earlier this summer plans for a new delayed coker unit at its strategic 320,000 bpd Antwerp refinery to convert heavy, higher sulfur residual oils into marine gasoil, diesel fuel and other products. The investment addresses an industry shortfall in converting fuel oil to products like diesel. According to the company, despite extremely low margins and industry-wide losses in Europe, due primarily to excess refining capacity, ExxonMobil is investing for the long term in its Antwerp refinery.
The new unit will expand the refinery’s ability to help meet energy needs throughout northwest Europe, in spite of a challenging industry environment. According to the French Union for Petroleum Industries (UFIP), European refining capacity has decreased by 8.0% between 2007 and 2013. The European refining industry has been hard hit by competition from US refiners increasing refined product exports to Europe. European refiners are also expected to face increasing competition from the Middle East and Russian refiners.
The new coker will play a significant role in addressing the well publicized product imbalance affecting the European refining industry, where European refineries are typically configured to produce gasoline against a backdrop in growing distillate demand. Up until about 2012, European refiners found the US gasoline market to be a lucrative export outlet for their excess gasoline capacity. Then, the shale revolution took everyone by surprise and US refiners began tapping into growing volumes of cheap, high quality shale crudes and tight oils, competitively exporting gasoline to Europe, Asia and even Africa.