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Do We Need More Oil Refineries?

Oil refinery in Carson, Calif.
David McNew
Getty Images
Oil refinery in Carson, Calif.

As gas prices continue their steep increase, some observers, including President Bush, have noted the United States has not built a new oil refinery since 1976. "Congress," charged the president, "has repeatedly blocked efforts to expand capacity and build more refineries."

Would the construction of new refineries help to lower fuel prices?

"It won't do a thing," says geologist Ken Deffeyes, author of Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak. The problem, he says, is not a lack of refining capabilities but a shortage of crude oil to be refined.

"Building more refineries won't make crude oil appear at the entry side of the refinery," says Deffeyes.

Additionally, he notes that while the U.S. has not built a new refinery in decades, oil companies have added increased capabilities to existing refineries. "We haven't seen oil piling up on the dock waiting to go to the refineries," he notes.

The focus, he says, should be on the lack of crude oil, and he says that problem won't go away. "If world oil production is not increasing — and in fact seems to be in the process of decreasing — you need fewer refineries, not more refineries," he says.

Deffeyes is a former oil company geologist and professor emeritus at Princeton University. He spoke to NPR's Bryant Park Project in the second in a series of interviews about solutions to increasing fuel prices.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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