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Ecuador refinery needs repair despite overhaul

10 Aug 2017, 6.12 pm GMT

Ecuador refinery needs repair despite overhaul

Quito, 10 August (Argus) — State-owned PetroEcuador will shut down its 110,000 b/d Esmeraldas refinery for extensive repairs even though the facility completed a $2.3bn overhaul in November 2015.

"Less than two years after the upgrade, we have found issues at Esmeraldas. There have been several outages. A few weeks ago, a power generator caught fire," oil minister Carlos Perez said today.

Perez acknowledged that even the refinery´s new fluidized catalytic cracker (FCC), which was replaced during the upgrade, is not working properly and "now we will need to shut it down for repair." Perez did not provide a date for the new shutdown.

PetroEcuador could not be reached for comment. The main contractor on the upgrade, South Korea´s SK, has not commented publicly on the refinery´s status.

Unplanned outages this year include a shutdown of the FCC on 23-28 January; the crude distillation unit 2 on 29 March-22 April because of a duct rupture; and the visbreaking unit 2 on 9-14 January, 16 February-3 March and 1 April-1 May, according to PetroEcuador's refining reports seen by Argus.

A complete shutdown of the refinery took place on 4-7 April, during the duct-related FCC outage. On 8-16 April, the refinery operated at half capacity as one of its CDUs was halted after a rupture of the ducts at the C-H2 furnace.

By 26 April the refinery was processing around 90,000 b/d and gradually resumed normal operations by 26 April.

Esmeraldas, Ecuador´s largest refinery, normally produces gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oil, LPG and asphalt. Operational disruptions at Esmeraldas and PetroEuador's 45,000 b/d La Libertad refinery and the 20,000 b/d Shushufindi (Amazonas) complex reduced overall products output by 5.5pc in January-April, according to PetroEcuador figures.

The refinery upgrade, one of former president Rafael Correa's flagship infrastructure projects, was plagued by corruption and bribery scandals. Two of PetroEcuador's former chief executives were recently imprisoned for corruption, and a third, Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli, fled the country.

From his self-imposed exile in Miami, Pareja has released a series of videos pointing to Jorge Glas, Ecuador's powerful vice president, as the mastermind behind a broad corruption scheme. According to Pareja, the scheme includes the refinery overhaul.

During Correa's 10-year presidency, Glas oversaw Ecuador's strategic sectors including oil, power, telecommunications and mining. He stayed on with current president Lenin Moreno, who won the April 2017 presidential election under Correa's populist Alianza Pais movement.

Since he took office in May, Moreno has distanced himself from Correa and Glas, stripping the latter of his powers on 3 August over bribery allegations linked to tainted Brazilian contractor Odebrecht.

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