Exxon Mobil again expanding its Beaumont refinery

Exxon Mobil Corp. will again expand its Beaumont refinery, making it one of the nation’s largest producers of fuels.

Exxon said Tuesday it will start construction this year to add about 40,000 barrels of daily refining capacity to the Beaumont complex. The expansion is in addition to an ongoing project last year to add 20,000 barrels of daily capacity.

The new project is focused on churning out more ultralow sulfur fuels to meet stricter, federal tailpipe emissions standards going into effect. Construction is expected to be completed in 2018.

The expansions could raise the total refining capacity of the refinery to 400,000 barrels per day from 345,000 barrels, making the refinery the fourth largest in Texas and the eighth-biggest in North America. Exxon declined to comment on project costs.

Reuters has reported that Exxon considered eventually scaling Beaumont up to the largest refinery in North America. But Exxon’s cutbacks in capital spending during the oil bust raised doubts about the project.

“Exxon Mobil continues to strengthen its portfolio of world-class refining assets,” said Steve Cope, director of North America refining for Exxon, in a prepared statement. “This investment further enhances the competitiveness of our U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.”

He said Beaumont is well positioned to meet growing fuel demand in the U.S. even in the face of a challenging energy industry environment.

The Beaumont project involves installing what is called a selective cat naphtha hydrofining unit, which uses a proprietary catalyst system to remove sulfur while minimizing octane loss. Exxon calls the technology “SCANfining.” Naphtha is a form of crude oil used to make refined products at petrochemical plants and refineries.

The expansion will create about 700 construction jobs, but only about five permanent jobs, according to Exxon. The Irving-based energy giant employs about 2,100 people in the Beaumont area at the refinery and at chemicals, lubricants and plastics plants.