Frequently Asked Questions - Crude Oil/Refining Process

Crude oil occurs naturally in the ground and is a complex mixture of organic liquids, formed millions of years ago. Crude oil varies from oilfield to oilfield in color and composition, from pale yellow, low viscosity fluid to heavy black “treacle” consistencies. Of little use in its natural  state, the value of crude oil lies in its bi-products including fuels, lubricating oils, waxes, asphalt and petrochemicals.
Crude oil contains a mixture of hydrocarbon compounds and relatively small quantities of other materials such as oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, salt and water.

Crude oil is sourced mainly from Mexico, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Type Country
Maya Mexico
Olmeca Mexico
Isthmus Mexico
Mesa Venezuela
Leona Venezuela
Lago Treco Venezuela
Oriente Ecuador

The traditional industry unit measure for petroleum volumes is a Barrel (bbl).
1 BBL = 42 US Gallons = 34.9726 Imperial Gallon = 158.987 Litres.

There are several factors which influenced the location of the refinery. These include:

  • Location in an Industrial Zone, which minimizes risk to surrounding communities and the environment;
  • Proximity to sea provides:
    • Accessibility to ocean going vessels for receiving crude oil and finished products, as well as from pipelines located under the sea.
    • An abundant supply of seawater for fire fighting.
    • Easy dispersal of waste gases in a seaward direction due to prevailing wind direction.
    • Underground supply of well water for cooling and boiler feed water. (National Water Commission sources provide additional “make-up” water, when necessary).

Refining begins with the separation of crude oil into different fractions by distillation. The fractions are further treated and processed to convert them into mixtures of more useful saleable products by various methods such as cracking, reforming, alkalization, polymerization and isomerization. These mixtures of new compounds are then separated using methods such as fractionation and solvent extraction.

Petrojam is a hydro-skimming refinery

This describes a refining process in which different petroleum fractions are merely separated out of the crude oil distillation and no significant additional conversion of the fractions into other compounds is done. At Petrojam, the only secondary conversion process undertaken is the conversion of naptha (the gasoline fraction), into a high-octane grade compound.

Hydroskimming - The refinery process

  • LPG/Cooking gas – used for heating, cooking, making plastics.
  • Naphthasol – used as a cleaning solvent.
  • Gasoline – 87 and 90 Octane grades of petrol for the transportation sector.
  • Jet fuel/Kerosene – fuel for jet engines, other aircraft and equipment including domestic lighting.
  • Automobile Diesel Oil/Gas Oil – used in diesel engine vehicles and to operate generators.
  • Heavy Fuel Oil – used for industrial operations such as power generation and marine transportation.
  • Asphalt – used for road construction.

The Octane Number is a measure of the resistance of a fuel to detonation (“knock”) when burned in an internal combustion engine. The higher the Octane Number, the more effective the anti-knock quality of the gasoline. A high percentage of vehicles in Jamaica require 87 Octane gas.

Petrojam’s ex-refinery pricing policy is based on the concept of import parity. Since deregulation of the petroleum market, refined petroleum products are priced to cost no more than the price an importer would pay to purchase finished products overseas and land them in Jamaica.

Regional gasoline prices are indexed to the current US Gulf Reference prices. To these prices are added freight and insurance, and the cost for storage and handling.

No. Petrojam supplies approximately 54% of Jamaica’s annual 26 million barrel petroleum requirements. The bauxite companies import approximately 35% for their operations and the remaining 11% is imported directly by the multinational marketing companies for the transportation sector.