Oxygen shortage forces Texas oil refinery to curtail operations

East Texas Rig Source: BP plc

A refinery in the key oil hub of Texas has suspended some of its operations due to a lack of oxygen supply amid the coronavirus pandemic, with authorities citing increased medical demand for the gas.

CITGO Refining and Chemical Co. will shut down part of its plant in Corpus Christi for four days to Sept. 6, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in a filing. The reason given was a loss of third-party oxygen supply.

Oxygen supplies have been tightening in parts of the U.S. due to medical use of the gas as COVID-19 patients require intensive care. In recent days, Premier Inc., a supply-purchasing group, said hospitals in the U.S. Southeast were running low on oxygen, with the worst-hit left only 12 to 24 hours’ worth.

“CITGO West Plant will be shutting down its sulfur recovery unit B-train due to the loss of third-party O2 supply resulting from increased medical field demand,” the commission said. O2 is a chemical designation for oxygen.

Refineries use oxygen for combustion in sulfur-recovery units or catalytic crackers to produce high-quality gasoline and diesel. Rising virus caseloads in Texas have spurred the oil industry to step up vaccine and mask mandates.

A similar situation took place in India earlier this year when the Asian nation was hit by a crippling wave of cases that overwhelmed health care facilities. Local refiners such as Indian Oil Corp. diverted oxygen from industrial operations to hospitals, prompting processors to scale down operations.

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