The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

U.S. Refining – Leading the World

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted January 24, 2017

Amid the volume of good news emanating from America’s energy renaissancelower consumer costs, economic growth, increased energy security, environmental progress and more – let’s also recognize that these benefits wouldn’t be realized without the key contributions of the U.S. refining sector.

Consider that the fuels we depend on every day for travel and commerce, as well as the chemical components that make up countless consumer products, result from the innovations and advanced technologies that America’s refiners apply every day in the processing of millions of barrels of crude oil. Check out this new video that captures the significance U.S. refining’s role:

The refining sector at a glance:

  • With 141 operable refineries, the sector reached a 35-year high for operable crude distillation capacity in 2015 at about 18 million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This, even though the overall number of refineries is less than half what it was in 1981.
  • The sector supports more than $292 billion to U.S. GDP – about 1.8 percent of total GDP.
  • It supports more than 1.2 million jobs, many of them high-skill positions for American workers across the country.

Today’s refineries produce the fuels that energize U.S. transportation, and those modern fuels also are integral to cleaner air. The refining process includes steps that remove sulfur and other impurities, improvements that will build in 2017 and beyond as Tier 3 gasoline enables cleaner-burning vehicles to be phased in and the vehicle fleet turns over. In addition, Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel now produced for all highway and non-road uses has 99.7 percent less sulfur, allowing for dramatically reduced nitrogen oxide emissions in newer diesel engines. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“[T]hanks to our nation’s world class refineries, which produce cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels, in combination with more fuel-efficient vehicles, U.S. air pollutants have fallen by 70 percent since 1970, even as vehicle miles travelled have increased by more than 180 percent. … This was achieved primarily through private sector innovation and investment. … It was the billions of dollars refiners invested in clean air technologies for their operations and in developing cleaner burning fuels that have led to lower air emissions from our fuels.”

As the video indicates, the U.S. refining sector is efficient, wasting nothing from a barrel of oil. It’s also well organized and well regulated. Industry standards promote safe and proven engineering practices in the design, fabrication, installation, inspection and use of materials and equipment in refineries and related processing facilities. Meanwhile, API-member refineries comply with safety regulations that help protect workers.

So, the next time you fill up, drive on a newly resurfaced highway, purchase something containing plastic or any of a long list of products made from refined petroleum, thank a refiner.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.