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  • Writer's pictureSarah Whiteford

What is the biggest oil refinery in the U.S.?

What is the biggest oil refinery in the United States?

It’s Fun Fact Friday and we’re talking about the biggest oil refinery in the United States. Until recently, it was owned by Motiva Enterprises, a joint venture by Shell, Texaco, and Saudi Aramco – it is now wholly owned by Saudi Aramco. The Port Arthur Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, has a capacity of 630,000 barrels of oil per day, making it the largest oil refinery in the United States! According to Hydrocarbons Technology: “Refining processes include: crude atmospheric and vacuum stilling, hydrotreating, catalytic reforming, delayed coking, fluid catalytic cracking, hydrocracking, lube solvent refining, and lube hydroprocessing, lube hydro-isomerisation, lube propane deasphalting and lube catalytic dewaxing.” From a small processing center in 1903 to a 285,000 barrel capacity in 2011 and on to over 600,000 barrels now, let’s take a look at the history of the Port Arthur refinery.

Image Credit: Valero

Who owns the refinery?

Texas Company, which would later become Texaco, built the first processing units in Port Arthur in 1902, coming online in 1903. This was a response to the Spindletop oil boom that started in 1901. The refinery grew over time, but really picked up steam over the last few decades. Saudi refining purchased a 50% stake in the Port Arthur refinery in 1989, beginning Saudi interest in the site. This joint venture with Texaco lasted until 2001, when Texaco was sold to Chevron, for Chevron to be sold to Shell the next year in 2002. That new venture was called Motiva Enterprises, including Shell and Saudi Aramco until 2017, when Saudi Aramco purchased 100% ownership.

Image Credit: Motiva

How did it grow?

In 1999, the refinery was selected for a second phase of modernization. “Port Arthur Refinery increased its competitive standing with the startup of the first commercial catalytic distillation hydrodesulfurisation unit to produce greater volumes of reformulated gasoline to meet tighter emissions restrictions.

The second phase of the lube base oil plant upgrade was completed in 2002 and now Port Arthur Refinery has one of the largest production volumes of lube base oil at a single location, with the highest yield of lube oil per barrel of crude input.”

$850 million was invested in 2001 for a coker and hydrocracker for sour, heavy crude oil. In 2006, Motiva expanded the refinery further, making it the largest Group II/II+ base oil facility in the world, producing 40,300 bpd of base oils. It produces six different grades of oils within these categories. In 2007 a super refinery expansion was announced, with a contract going to Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. This is the expansion that would more than double the capacity from 285,000 to more than 600,000, surpassing ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, refinery with a capacity of 560,640 bpd. The $7 billion expansion turned out to be $10 billion, but was continued and finished in 2012, two years later than expected. The upgrades allow the refinery to work with heavier oil from South America and Canada, rather than just lighter crude.

Image Credit: Motiva

Need more stats?

Much of the oil was slated to come from Saudi Arabia, but now comes from multiple countries around the world. The refinery sites on 1,400 acres and has 1,500 employees. The daily production breakdown ( for some products is more than many refineries total output:

  • 275,000 barrels of branded fuel, such as “conventional gasoline, commercial aviation fuel, Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel, Export (High Cetane) Diesel and Texas Low Emissions Diesel, which are used in commercial sales, the trucking industry and in heavy-duty machinery.”

  • 40,000 barrels of base oil, “The refinery is ISO 14001 certified and the base oil operations are ISO 9001 certified.”

  • 100 railcars of fuel-grade coke – “The Port Arthur Refinery also is the largest single producer of petroleum coke, with two coking units that produce fuel grade quality product. In addition to fuel grade coke, the Port Arthur refinery produces liquid petroleum gases, petrochemical feeds and sulfur.”

As of 2018, the plant has donated more than $1,000,000 to the United Way. In 2017 alone, it distributed $600,000 to “22 area children’s charities from the Valero Texas Open and Benefit for Children”. 10,000 hours of annual volunteer events and other giving can be viewed at Valero.

Happy Friday!


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