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    Crippled Citgo Refinery Sparks Fears

    Company says the manufacturing facility could be shut down six months for repairs.

    The condition of a disabled Illinois refinery is much more severe than originally believed.

    Tulsa, Okla.-based Citgo Petroleum Corp., the U.S. refining and marketing subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), said yesterday it expects its fire-damaged refinery in Lemont, Ill., to remain crippled for up to six months, far worse than the six-week original prognostication and sparking worries that the U.S. Midwest's already thin supplies may start drying up.

    "Unless someone can redirect gasoline and diesel into the area I think there's going to be a tightening of supply, and even shortages," Bill Fleischli, director of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association (IPMA), told Reuters.

    The Citgo refinery, which produces 160,000 barrels of gasoline and distillates per day, was shut Aug. 14 due to a fire in the crude distillation unit. Three days later the plant's distillation tower suffered a structural failure.

    "For supply planning purposes, we are assuming that the crude unit will return to service in 20 to 24 weeks," said Adolph Lechtenberger, Citgo senior vice president of refining and petrochemicals. Citgo has estimated the cost of the damage at $25 million.

    To ease the region's supply shock the company said it would study ways of operating the refinery's gasoline- and diesel-producing units by bringing in feedstocks from outside the refinery, the report said.

    "If we are able to deliver sufficient feedstocks and blending components, we may be able to begin producing gasoline and diesel fuel at the refinery prior to bringing the crude unit back on line," Lechtenberger said.

    Midwest petroleum supplies are already languishing at low levels, with gasoline stocks more than five million barrels below last year, and distillate stocks more than four million barrels below, according to data
    from the American Petroleum Institute (API).

    Meanwhile, Midwest pump prices have pushed well-above the national average of $1.44 a gallon, with drivers in Chicago paying $1.69 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association's (AAA) daily survey of 60,000 service stations.

    The Midwest has been treading a razor's edge for supply since last winter when Premcor closed the doors at its 80,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Blue Island, Ill, due to the cost of necessary upgrades.

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