HOUSTON/BOGOTA, March 13 (Reuters) - The single crude distillation unit at Colombia's 80,000-barrel per day (bpd) Cartagena refinery has been stopped to undergo a planned expansion at the facility that will double its capacity by 2015, traders told Reuters.
The cracking unit was previously halted last year as part of the same expansion project, which will cost $6 billion in total. The effort is part of a broader push by Ecopetrol, which owns and operates the unit, to lift refinery capacity to replace imports while also boosting exports.
"The crude unit was shut down on March 4," a trader who deals with state run Ecopetrol said on Thursday.
Another source said industrial services for the refinery (water, electricity and steem) were working normally and other smaller units were also active, but it was not clear how long the CDU and cracker would remain halted.
Colombia's Vice Minister of Energy Orlando Cabrales said last week that most fuels produced by Cartagena will still be used for export, while the other domestic refinery, the 252,000 bpd Barrancabermeja, will be upgraded to meet internal quality specifications, mainly for ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD).
Ecopetrol has ramped up tenders on the open market to import finished fuels. The company has launched almost a dozen of purchase offers in recent weeks to buy ULSD, jet fuel, virgin naphtha and gasoline.
Traders expect the company will continue increasing purchases of fuels during 2014, while Cartagena is being expanded.
Last year, a similar expansion project at Costa Rican Recope's 25,000-bpd Moin refinery prompted more imports for the Central American country. U.S Valero Energy supplied the company with a big portion of the gasoline, diesel and jet needed for the domestic market.
The Colombian domestic market demands some 290,000 bpd of fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
In 2013, the Andean country, which produces around 1 million bpd of crude, increased imports of fuels from the United States to 118,000 bpd, 41 percent of its consumption, the EIA said. The nation also buys gasoline and diesel from neighbor Venezuela.