Refining president promotes positive outlook for domestic business

Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, said he’s optimistic about the future of refining in the United States, even as some of the nation’s largest oil companies are moving away from the business and as domestic demand for fuel levels off.

“We’re getting more out of the barrel than we ever have,” Drevna said in a meeting with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board Tuesday. “We’re still long on refining capacity here.”

In the five-year period ending in December 2010, domestic refining capacity grew about 2 percent, according to federal estimates. That has slowed since the late 1990s, when refining capacity jumped 9 percent between December 1995 and December 2000.

Today, U.S. refiners have the capacity to process about 17.6 million barrels of oil a day.

Drevna noted that technology has allowed for greater refining efficiency and that some domestic refineries have expanded their capacities.

Still, he added, “I’m surprised it’s taken this long” for major oil companies like ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil to divest from the refining units.

“Even the majors have only so much money to invest in different things,” he said of the large oil companies that operate  in both oil production and refining. “It’s a question of where do you put your investment dollars.”

Meanwhile, he noted, exports of some petroleum products are growing as demand in the United States languishes.

Federal estimates show that the United States consumed an average of 582 million barrels of petroleum each month in 2010, about as much as in 1998.