The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

100 Days: Refining Sector Produces For U.S.

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted April 17, 2017

Every day Americans head off to work or play, use a cellphone or countless other consumer products made from petroleum, they should thank a refiner. U.S. refineries are the essential link between America’s ongoing renaissance in energy production and the actual benefits Americans enjoy from that production.

Modern, sophisticated refineries that process all types of crudes turn millions of barrels of oil into the high-quality fuels that take us where we want to go – from trips to the grocery store, to intercontinental flights, to space exploration.

In addition to fuels, refiners provide energy for heat and light, and they produce the petrochemicals that make up so many of the items we use every day: plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and more. Refineries provide the feedstocks to make about 99 percent of all petrochemicals in the United States.

The refining sector also is integral to our country’s economic health, contributing about 1.8 percent to annual GDP, supporting more than 1.2 million jobs for high-skilled workers and $98 billion in wages and benefits annually, according to assorted government data.

The country’s 141 refineries have a daily operating capacity of more than 18 million barrels, the highest in 35 years – even though the number of refineries is less than half what it was in in the early 1980s.


These refineries use modern technologies and equipment to produce the cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels that go into today’s more fuel-efficient vehicles, which helped reduce U.S. air pollutants by 71 percent between 1970 and 2015, even as vehicle miles traveled increased by 184 percent, according to EPA


Further reductions in sulfur will continue to build on these improvements through 2020 and beyond as Tier 3 gasoline and cleaner-burning vehicles are phased in and the vehicle fleet turns over. Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel has more than 99 percent less sulfur than conventional diesel and is now produced for all highway and non-road uses – allowing for dramatically reduced nitrogen oxide emissions from newer diesel engines. The progress we’ve made is undeniable; national average peak ozone concentrations have dropped by 17 percent since 2000.

Meanwhile, refiners have spent more than $154 billion since 1990 on environmental improvements at their facilities and have developed cleaner fuels for U.S. consumers.

A strong U.S. refining sector is essential to our nation’s economic growth. The sector also is producing valuable products for trade, in North America:



And across the globe:

chart: EIA exports finished petroleum products

Maintaining this refining sector edge depends on development of new technologies and ensuring that progress isn’t hampered by duplicative and unnecessary regulation. Frank Macchiarola, API downstream group director:

“U.S. refineries not only provide the gasoline and diesel that fuels our American economic engine, but also provide us with the chemicals essential to the medicines, cosmetics, computers, cell phones, plastics and many other products that help raise our standard of living. In short, U.S. refineries are indispensable in providing meaningful value to all of our lives.”

Click: “100 Days” series.


Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He's currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.