Colombia restarts upgraded Cartagena refinery after $8 billion investment

Colombian officials restarted the crude processing unit of the Cartagena refinery Wednesday in the first step of making all 31 units of the upgraded plant operational that will process 165,000 barrels of crude per day.

“After US$8 billion and six years of work, I am proud to say that this refinery is the most modern in Latin America and experts tell me it is also the most modern in the world,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said.

Santos added that the impact of the newly upgraded refinery in the economy will represent by itself a full percentage point of growth in the country´s gross domestic product and reduce the trade deficit by $1.5 billion.

“The impact in the economy will be very positive. We will replace imports and export a lot more. While the estimated impact in the national gross domestic product is 1% more, in the industrial GDP it will reach as much as an additional 10 percent,” Santos said.

The country´s state oil company Ecopetrol separately said that the investment increased crude refining capacity to 165,000 barrels per day from 80,000 barrels per day. 

“Of each barrel processed, 97 percent will be turned into valuable products like diesel and gasoline,” Ecopetrol said. "It has more flexibility to process heavier crudes, abundant in Colombia, and which have fewer costs that allow us to improve profit margins."

Previously barrels processed were 74 percent.

Following the restart of the crude unit, the start of operations of all 31 plants making up the complex will take “a few months," Ecopetrol said.

Before the restart was possible on October 21, the compressed air, electricity and water complex supplying the refinery was put into operation in early October.

The crude unit started operations after reaching a temperature of 380 degrees Celsius, which is used to process crude oil before it goes into an atmospheric distillation unit where, through vaporization, crude is converted into products. Lighter components like gases and kerosene rise while heavier ones like fuel oil stay on the bottom and go into other units for more processing.

Out of the 165,000 crude barrels processed per day, the plant will yield 90,000 barrels of diesel, 40,000 barrels of naphtha and gasoline, 10,000 barrels of jet fuel, 5,000 of propylene, 4,000 of LPG, 270 tonnes of sulfur and 2,500 tonnes of coke, Ecopetrol said.

Full production rates will be reached in the second quarter of next year.

Ecopetrol said that the diesel to be produced will have less than 10 parts-per-million of sulfur. Before the upgrade, it produced diesel with 2,400 ppm of sulfur. As for gasoline, the sulfur content is reduced to less than 50 ppm, down from 800 ppm previously.