The Humber refinery – a key indigenous source of supply

OVER THE PAST DECADE, CONTINUING RATIONALISATION OF THE UK’S REFINERY NETWORK HAS RESULTED IN JUST SIX PLANTS NOW SERVICING THE INLAND MARKET.  AMONG THIS MUCH DIMINISHED NETWORK – IN 1980 THERE WERE 20 PLANTS – THE HUMBER REFINERY HAS A PIVOTAL ROLE AS A SUPPLY SOURCE TO THE MIDLANDS, THE NORTH, NORTH WEST, EAST ANGLIA AND SCOTLAND

Libyan oil fuels the building of the Humber refinery

In the mid 1950s Continental Oil, whose origins can be traced back to 1875, decided to spread its winds beyond its indigenous US-based operations to seek new sources of crude oil elsewhere. By the end of that decade a consortium, in which Continental Oil was involved, had discovered substantial reserves in Libya.

To take full advantage of these discoveries, it was decided to build a vertically integrated supply chain.  The company – now called Conoco – sought to establish a downstream presence in Europe, the closest substantial market. A series of independent fuel marketing and distribution companies were acquired in the early/mid 1960s in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland and, in the UK, Jet Petroleum.

The need for a European refinery was quickly established, with the UK as the chosen country of location.  Two possibilities were considered – Milford Haven, with its deep water access for very large crude carriers (VLCC) and South Killingholme on Humberside. One of the considerations which weighed in favour of the latter location was around availability of grant aid from the government to support the project.

The Humber refinery was commissioned in 1969, initially with a processing capacity of 80,000BD, the refinery predominantly ran sweet low sulphur Es Sider equity crude oil from Libya.

The refinery’s capabilities

Processing capacity was expanded to 130,000BD in the mid 1970s and to its current nameplate level of 221,000BD in the 1990s.  The facility comprises two distillation units, one running light low to medium sulphur crudes with the other running sour/acidic crudes primarily from the North Sea for which the facility’s location endows it with very advantageous logistics.

The refinery can also run up to 19,000BD of other feed stocks, principally straight run residual fuel oil.

In the early 1980s a fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit was added, with capacity of 50,000BD; reforming capacity is just above that level. One of the refinery’s most distinctive features, embodying Conoco’s long established insights and understanding of the complex technologies, are the petroleum coke production units with a total capacity of 700,000 tonnes per year.  The refinery is the world’s largest producer of speciality grade graphite coke and Europe’s largest producer of anode cokes which are principally used in the steel and aluminium smelting processes respectively.

With a Nelson Index of 11.7, the refinery is classified as being of high complexity and close to the top end of European facilities for upgrade/conversion capability.

Crude oil is delivered from tankers to the refinery via a mono buoy off the Lincolnshire coast by the village of Tetney, from where it is transferred by a 5-mile pipeline to 10 shore tanks, for subsequent onward movement into the refinery’s crude oil storage.

Ownership of the refinery transferred from ConocoPhillips to Phillips 66 on 1st May 2012 when the company was split in to separate upstream and downstream entities.

Power to the refinery is supplied from the Immingham combined heat and power plant (CHP) plant, commissioned in 2004 with a capacity of 730MW, which was expanded to 1,240MW in 2009 and is one of the largest such units in Europe.  It was sold by Phillips 66 to Vitol in 2013.

A very important strategic facility playing a pivotal role

The Humber refinery’s role has been reinforced in recent years with the 2010 closure of the former Petroplus Teesport refinery.  Its role will also be put into sharper perspective following Total’s announcement earlier this year of its intention to reduce the distillation capacity of the adjacent Lindsey refinery by 50%.   

Establishment of the refinery on Humberside serves as a splendid testimony to the foresight  – coupled with an element of geological good fortune – of the Conoco personnel back in the 1960s. This team was responsible for the conception and development of a plant running predominantly sweet equity crude oil from Libya and for locating it in close proximity to a substantial future source of crude of similar properties/quality from the North Sea!

Their decision has also provided the country with a key indigenous source of supply of refined petroleum products and, as such, a very important strategic facility.


Product yield and distribution

Petrol @ 32%

Diesel/Gasoil @ 44%

Kerosene/ Jet A-1 @ 8%

Petroleum coke @ 6%

Fuel oil @ 4%

Petrochemical feed stocks @ 4%

LPG @ 2%

(Source: UKPIA)

Around 70% of the refinery’s production is placed in the UK inland market, principally through the following distribution channels:

  • Coaster from the shared/ jointly owned – with the adjacent Total Lindsey refinery – jetty facilities of Associated Petroleum Terminals (APT) to Scotland  (Aberdeen and  Inverness), Tyneside and East Anglia
  • Pipeline via the formerly MOD owned GPSS  which was acquired by Spanish logistics company, CLH, in March 2015, to Bramhall terminal in south Manchester
  • Rail to Warwick Oil Storage at Kingsbury and to Jarrow
  • RTW from nearby Immingham terminal, servicing local markets in Humberside, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire

Phillips 66 also has a presence in the aviation fuel market at four airports – Newcastle International, Durham Tees Valley,

Leeds/Bradford International and Robin Hood (Doncaster/Sheffield), product being supplied by RTW from Immingham.

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