In the Northeast, crude units were reported to be down at Monroe Energy's 185,000-bbl/d Trainer refinery as well as at Philadelphia Energy Solutions' 335,000-bbl/d Philadelphia refinery. Additionally, ongoing refinery outages in Venezuela and a recently resolved outage at North Atlantic's 115,000-bbl/d Come by Chance refinery in Canada supported Atlantic basin gasoline crack spreads. The market's reaction to this string of U.S. refinery outages may have been exacerbated by the late-January announcement that Hess Corporation planned to close its 70,000-bbl/d Port Reading refinery at the end of February. On the Gulf Coast, Motiva's Norco, Louisiana, and Port Arthur, Texas refineries are reported down for maintenance in February, according to trade press. It should also be noted that Gulf Coast crack spreads have been bolstered by the increases in RBOB prices attributable to the switch to summer-grade gasoline. On the West Coast, refinery maintenance has been particularly heavy. At one point in January, almost 300,000 bbl/d of fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) capacity was off line. While some capacity has come back on line, several outages persist in the region. FCC units are particularly important for gasoline production, and FCC maintenance can significantly affect gasoline prices.
While U.S. exports of petroleum products continue at a robust level, the relationship between product exports and domestic gasoline prices is quite complex and exports do not appear to be contributing to rising U.S. pump prices since the start of the year. As U.S. demand for gasoline and distillate has declined, robust global demand for petroleum products has provided Gulf Coast refineries with an export market for gasoline and distillate produced using capacity that would otherwise have been operated at lower utilization rates. In particular, strong global demand for distillate fuels in recent years has been a factor allowing refiners to operate profitably with lower gasoline crack spreads than would otherwise have been possible. While U.S. gasoline exports have also increased in recent years, the United States was still a net importer of gasoline in 2012. Generally, over 80 percent of U.S. exports of total gasoline are produced and shipped from the Gulf Coast, while the vast majority of U.S. gasoline imports enter the country along the East Coast. Constraints on product pipelines between the Gulf Coast and the Northeast regions and the limited availability and expense of vessels permitted to move product between U.S. ports, which must be built, maintained, and flagged in the United States and employ U.S. crews, limit the amount of petroleum products that can be moved economically from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast. Were gasoline exports to be constrained, global gasoline supply would likely decline, and U.S. gasoline importers, especially in the Northeast, would face additional competition for supplies from buyers in other countries that would have otherwise been supplied from U.S. refineries, which would tend to raise the price of imported gasoline.