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By Asjylyn Loder January 10, 2008

Capacity has increased

When it comes to energy independence, the United States has "an idea" but lacks "a program," according to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. During the Jan. 5 debates in Manchester, N.H., he said, "We haven't built a refinery, I think, in 30 years."

It's been more than 30 years, said Bill Holbrook, communications director for the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, an industry trade group. The last spanking-new refinery built in the United States was the Marathon Oil refinery in Garyville, La., in 1976.

But that's not the whole story, he said.

"When people say that, they're implying that the industry has done nothing to increase capacity," Holbrook complained. "And that is inaccurate."

The industry has found it costs less money and takes less time to expand existing facilities, he said. Over the past 15 years, the U.S. refining industry has added the equivalent of one new, state-of-the-art refinery a year, each with a capacity to refine 150,000 to 300,000 barrels per day.

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Jonathan Cogan, senior analyst with the Energy Information Administration, echoed Holbrook: "Not quibbling with the wording, but it leads you to believe we haven't increased our refining capacity. We have."

In fact, the United States has added nearly 1.7-million barrels per day of refining capacity since 1985, according to the administration's records.

Cogan said Garyville is the last "significant" refinery built, and industry experts often think of it as the most recent. But there have been a handful of smaller refineries built since then. However, those can handle only a fraction of Garyville's capacity, according to the EIA, the information arm of the Department of Energy.

So Giuliani has the date right, but tells only part of the story. No significant refineries have been built in more than 30 years, but refining capacity in the United States has expanded substantially and smaller plants have been built. We rule his statement Barely True.

UPDATE: The last new refinery of significant size built in the United States was a Marathon Oil refinery in Garyville, La. Previously, we reported an incorrect name for the facility.

Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

Energy Information Administration, U.S. Operable Crude Oil Distillation Capacity, updated Dec. 21, 2007

Interview with Bill Holbrook, communications director for the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, Jan. 7, 2008

Interview with Jonathan Cogan, senior analyst, Energy Information Administration, Jan. 9, 2007

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