Ecopetrol advances Cartagena refinery expansion

State-owned Ecopetrol SA has started operations at its newly expanded crude unit as part of the long-planned expansion and modernization project at subsidiary Refineria de Cartagena SA’s (Reficar) 80,000-b/d refinery located in the Mamonal Industrial Area on Cartagena Bay, south of Cartagena, on Colombia’s northern coast (OGJ Online, Apr. 5, 2010; Dec. 30, 2009; Nov. 19, 2009).

The first hydrocarbons were introduced into the new unit for processing on Oct. 21, with full commissioning of the sequential 31 plants that will make up the modernized refinery to take place over the next few months, Ecopetrol said.

Shuttered since Mar. 5, 2014, for execution of the nearly $7 billion modernization overhaul, the upgraded crude unit will have a capacity to process 165,000 b/d of low-cost heavy crudes to produce a slate of higher-quality products that meet the highest Colombian and international environmental specifications, the company said.

Scheduled to become fully operational during second-quarter 2016, the Cartagena refinery will be equipped to produce the following:

• 90,000 b/d of ultralow-sulfur diesel (ULSD) with a sulfur content of less than 10 ppm.

• 40,000 b/d of low-sulfur gasoline with a sulfur content of less than 50 ppm.

• 10,000 b/d of low-sulfur jet fuel.

• 5,000 b/d of refinery grade propylene.

• 4,000 b/d of LPG.

• 270 tonnes/day of sulfur.

• 2,500 tonnes/day of coke.

During its most recent quarterly earnings call in August, Orlando Diaz, Ecopetrol’s interim vice-president of refining and industrial processes, told investors that the Cartagena expansion and modernization project had reached 98.6% completion by the end of this year’s second quarter.

In a 2011 project description, Ecopetrol said that, in addition to more than doubling the capacity of the refinery’s crude unit, the Cartagena expansion was to involve installation of a large coker and hydrocracker, as well as expanding the capacity of an existing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU).

Alongside the expanded crude unit, the original modernization plan for the refinery called for the following units and processing capacities:

• Vacuum distillation unit: 100,000 b/d.

• Coker: 43,000 b/d.

• Hydrocracker: 35,000 b/d.

• FCCU revamp: 35,000 b/d.

• Two ULSD diesel units: 35,000 b/d each.

• Butamer unit: 1,500 b/d.

• Merichem kerosine-treating unit: 20,000 b/d.

• Hydrofluoric acid alkylation unit: 9,000 b/d.

• Hydrogen plant: 100 MMscfd.

• Pressure swing adsorption (PSA) hydrogen plant: 20 MMscfd.

• Sulfur plants: 270 tonnes/day.

Barrancabermeja refinery

Physical progress on a modernization project designed to increase crude processing capacity to 300,000 b/d at Ecopetrol’s 250,000-b/d Barrancabermeja in Santander, Colombia, remained suspended at 18.14% as of yearend 2014, unchanged from a year earlier (OGJ Online, Apr. 30, 2014), according to the company’s 2014 annual report published in late-April.

The Barrancabermeja modernization, which was recommissioned by the company in September 2014, previously was due to be completed in 2016, Ecopetrol said.

While a portion of the project’s 2015 budget continued to await approval from Ecopetrol’s board, the company did commission Barrancabermeja’s U-5100 cogeneration unit during this year’s first half as part of a separate Industrial Services Master Plan (ISMP) undertaking at the site, Ecopetrol said in May.

ISMP, which aims to increase the reliability and efficiency of industrial services operations at Barrancabermeja had reached 98.6% physical completion by August, said the company, which also commissioned a turbo gas unit at the refinery earlier this year.

Ecopetrol also is evaluating potential implementation of a plan to convert Barrancabermeja into a deep-conversion refinery, which would allow it to process more extra-heavy and heavy crudes produced at local fields, as well as increase production of middle distillates for the local market.

The company told investors it would decide whether to undertake the deep-conversion project at Barrancabermeja once it has completed the Cartagena refinery modernization project.

Contact Robert Brelsford at

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