The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Growing Refining Capacity and Serving Consumers

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 24, 2017

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that our country’s refining capacity continues to grow, reaching 18.6 million barrels per calendar day as of Jan. 1, 2017 – 1.6 percent higher than at the beginning of 2016 – and further adding to the United States’ status as the world’s leading refiner. EIA’s chart illustrates this capacity growth:


Over the past 40 years, U.S. operable capacity has increased 13.5 percent, which, when you look at the coinciding decrease in the number of refineries, results in a more than 127 percent increase in capacity per facility. Such a remarkable increase is a tribute to industry’s commitment to supply consumer needs. Put another way, the United States currently has half the number of refineries it had in 1977, yet daily average refining capacity per refinery has increased 127 percent  – thanks to the technological innovations, increased efficiency and significant infrastructure investment by the refining industry.

Add it all up, and these numbers are very important to American consumers. Refineries not only produce the fuels that keep our vehicles running – transportation fuels account for about 85 percent of products leaving the refinery – they also turn out the petrochemical feedstocks used in countless ways in our modern lives, such as ethylene, propylene and xylene.

In a real sense, refineries are the vital link between America’s wealth of raw energy and delivering the benefits of that wealth to U.S. consumers – in the items made from petroleum or with derived from it in the refining process. These range from the everyday – plastics, appliances, medicines and much more – to creations such as this exoskeleton, with carbon fiber rods and other components derived from refined oil, which Lowe’s uses to help its employees do their heavy lifting


… and a “Third Thumb” that uses flexible plastic and is 3D printable from a printer that extrudes heated plastic, metal or other materials, layer upon layer, to create a three-dimensional object. Some of the most common printing filaments in these devices use plastics derived from oil and natural gas.

Here’s another one, a 3D-printed cast:

All of these are pretty cool and just a few examples of the ways petroleum is helping expand the horizon for what’s humanly possible.

Again, refineries are playing an important role as a supplier to other industries. This is seen in the increasing integration of refineries with petrochemical plants, either through colocation or via pipeline. As of last month, 10.2 million barrels per day of U.S. refining capacity is integrated with the petrochemical industry – up from 9.4 million barrels per day in 2011, according to Wood Mackenzie. This integration helps to serve the needs of the U.S. economy by directly supplying feedstocks to the petrochemical production industry.

So, when you hear about capacity gains and other advances in the U.S. refining industry, think about a world-leading industry that is safely and innovatively meeting the country’s varied needs every day, making lives more mobile, comfortable and productive.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.