Phillips 66 contol room

Gasoline prices expected to increase more than diesel prices next week? Then crank up gasoline production! It may sound simple, but sophisticated software, communications and refining equipment all work in harmony to maximize profits on the fly in the highly-competitive US refining industry.

Refinery control room operators in New Jersey work closely with commercial traders in Houston to optimize product yields based on market trends, Phillips 66 representatives told reporters during a recent tour of their Linden, New Jersey refining complex.

Operators can manipulate refined product output volumes up or down by 5% to 7% in order to capture the maximum value for a given product – like gasoline, diesel or jet fuel – as forecast by the Phillips 66 marketing team. When dealing in thousands of barrels per day, those percentages quickly add up.

“The commercial traders send weekly economic forecasts on Thursdays, so we can optimize for week-ahead product prices,” said Refinery Manager David Erfert.

He also said they purchase crude oil 40 to 60 days in advance, effectively eliminating their ability to quickly respond to global oil market shifts, increasing the necessity of processing flexibility at the plant level.

Additionally, the operators closely monitor local weather conditions because events like fast-moving thunder storms can rapidly introduce natural cooling and air pressure fluctuations, requiring them to adjust plant functions accordingly.