A refinery on the Texas Gulf Coast shut part of a key process unit due to a lack of oxygen supply amid a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, with authorities citing increased medical demand for the gas.
Citgo Petroleum Corp. is shutting down a section of a sulfur recovery unit known as a B-train for four days due to the loss of third-party oxygen supply “resulting from increased medical field demand,” according to a state environmental filing. Oxygen is used to boost the ability to recover the sulfur.
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.
The impacted unit takes sulfur already extracted from feedstocks and products in the form of acid and gas streams and turns it into a solid. The filing didn’t indicate an impact to production.
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.
Rising virus caseloads in Texas have spurred the oil industry to step up vaccine and mask mandates.
Citgo’s 167,500-barrel-a-day refinery has two refineries several miles apart operating as one in Corpus Christi and known as the East and West plants. The sulfur recovery unit that was curtailed is located at the West Plant. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.