History

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The beginning

In the 1950s the oil company Standard Vacuum (“Stanvac”), a joint venture between Mobil and Esso, entered into negotiations with the South Australian government of Sir Thomas Playford for the construction of an oil refinery in Adelaide. 

 A location on Gulf St Vincent, south of Adelaide, was chosen because of its deep water that was ideal for the anchorage of large crude oil tankers.   It was the deepest refinery port in the Australian oil industry, and was named Port Stanvac, after the founding company. 

After almost five years of planning, engineering and construction, the “Port Stanvac” refinery started operation in March 1963 and was officially opened by Sir Thomas Playford, on 10th May 1963. 

By the time the refinery started, the “Stanvac” venture had been restructured and Mobil and Esso had formed a new jointly owned company, Petroleum Refineries (Australia) Pty Ltd (PRA), to run the Adelaide and Altona refineries.   PRA subsequently became Mobil Refining Australia Pty Ltd following Mobil’s acquisition of Esso’s Australian petroleum marketing and refining business in 1991.

Workers queuing for jobs in the refineryWorkers queuing for jobs in the refinery

Heyday

The refinery provided jobs for around 400 people and contributed indirectly to the employment of many others in associated industries.  Employment at the refinery was highly sought after owing to the attractive pay and other benefits offered.

The refinery was designed to process 42,000 barrels per day (6.7 million litres per day) of crude oil into a range of fuel products including premium and regular grades of petrol, power and lighting kerosene,  jet fuel, automotive and industrial diesel oil, fuel oil and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), as well as bitumen for road surfacing and solvents.

In the 1970s, a 3000 barrels per day lubricating oil refinery was built within the Port Stanvac site, adjacent to the fuels refinery, commencing operations in 1976. At the same time the fuels refinery capacity was expanded to 72,000 barrels per day.  In the early 1980s the lube refinery capacity was expanded through the construction of a catalytic lube dewaxing unit, the first application globally of this new Mobil technology (dewaxing is the final stage of processing within the lube refinery to produce high quality lubricant product).

At its peak, the refinery produced more than 8.5 million litres of refined products a day, accounting for around 90% of South Australia’s petrol and diesel requirements.

Adelaide Refinery

Challenging times

The early 1980s was a challenging decade for the oil refining industry around the world and two refineries in Australia - the Total Matraville refinery in Sydney and the BP Westernport refinery in Melbourne - were both closed in 1984. The additional value added through the lube refinery, however, enabled the Adelaide refinery to survive this difficult period. 

The Adelaide refinery continued to strive to improve its operations and construction of a light naphtha isomerisation unit commenced in 1988.  This unit was designed to increase Adelaide refinery’s petrol production capacity to match the state’s needs.  Further improvements were made to the refinery’s marine facilities and other infrastructure during the 1990s. 

The business environment became progressively more difficult for Adelaide, however, and despite the best efforts of refinery staff operations grew increasingly unprofitable.  Finally, in 2003 the decision was made to cease operations and “mothball” the refinery, which would allow for potential restart in the event that business conditions improved. 

In mid-2009 Mobil re-assessed business conditions and decided it would not re-open the refinery. Instead, planning for demolition of the facilities and remediation of the site began.  Physical demolition of infrastructure is scheduled to begin in 2Q 2012. Keep updated with the progress of the demolition here.