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United Refining Company

Feb 23, 2009 | Posted in Essays, Pennsylvania Oil Companies

By Neil McElwee, 2009

The United Refining Co. of Warren claims its origins date back to 1902 when there were ten distinct refining operations in Warren. Warren’s refineries processed wax-based Appalachian crude oil at the time and obtained their crude from locally owned gathering lines and the Pure Oil pipeline system owned by a confederation of independent oil interests. A small group of businessmen began what would become United Refining by processing lube oils in 1902. In 1903, the enterprise erected its own stills and agitators to refine locally gathered crude. In 1912, the firm participated with other Pure Oil independents in building a pipeline from the region to West Virginia to make up for the loss of crude from Northwestern Pennsylvania.

With the dramatic recovery of production in the Bradford Field starting in 1921, the firm turned its focus toward Bradford. It sold its interests in the West Virginia Pipeline in 1923 and, that same year, purchased two existing pipelines, likely the old United States Pipeline lines, running between Warren and Bradford. United Refining opened a crude purchasing office in Bradford and laid gathering pipelines in the vicinity to capture its share of the growing Bradford production. United Refining purchased the old Glade Oil Works in Warren from Cities Service in 1927.

In 1929, United formed a marketing company, Emblem Oil Co., to retail gasoline in Northwest Pennsylvania and Western New York under the Keystone brand. The firm improved refinery operations throughout the 1930’s. By 1940, United Refining had a crude refining capacity of 4,500 barrels a day. United continued to run Pennsylvania Grade Crude.
A catalytic reforming plant was installed in the refinery in 1953 to produce high-octane gasoline.

In 1960, United Refining expanded direct gasoline marketing by purchasing seven stations in Rochester and nine in Western Pennsylvania. In 1966, the firm purchased 60 Skat retail gas stations.

In 1971, United Refining built a 12 inch crude oil pipeline from its Warren Refinery north 78 miles to West Seneca, New York. In West Seneca, United Refining connected to a common carrier pipeline terminal receiving asphalt-based crude from Canada. United Refining redesigned its operations to process asphalt-based crude that was in plentiful supply. That same year, United Refining bought a large bulk product terminal in Rochester.

In 1981, United Refining modified its Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit and increased its refining throughput to an impressive 65,000 barrels a day. In 1983, United Refining acquired 83 Ashland Oil retail stations.

Back in 1969, United Refining became a publicly traded company. It was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1972. In 1981, United Refining was purchased by Coral Petroleum of Houston, Texas and was taken private, no longer traded on the market. The firm encountered major financial difficulties in the mid-1980’s and entered chapter 11 bankruptcy owing its creditors $120 million. In 1987, United Refining was purchased by New York City entrepreneur, John A. Catsimatidis, for $7.5 million. Catsimatidis made United Refining a subsidiary of his Red Apple Group. Over the next ten years, Catsamitidis paid off United’s creditors.

In 1989, 26 former Stop & Go retail stations were purchased followed by 26 Busy Bee stations in 1991. The Springdale bulk terminal was purchased in 1991 as the company continued to expand its marketing network. The former Ashland Refinery property in Tonawanda, New York was purchased in 1992 and converted to a products terminal.

The company installed a new hydrotreater in 1993 to produce low sulfur diesel fuel and a prefractionator tower in ’95 to manufacture reformulated gasoline.

In 2001, United Refining purchased Erie-based Country Fair with its 74 retail gas station-convenience store sites. Country Fair owned the rights to use the Citgo brand in its marketing area.

Today, the firm operates 369 Kwik Fill, Red Apple and Country Fair stations and stores, and the firm sells products under the Kwik Fill, Citgo and Keystone brands. It ranks thirty-fifth in the country in the number of convenience stores it operates. United Refining produces gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, home heating oil, industrial fuels and asphalt. The firm has bulk terminals in Butler and Springdale, Pennsylvania and Rochester, Tonawanda and Seneca, New York. The Warren Refinery can process an impressive 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day. With annual revenue of $3.2 billion as of August 2008, United Refining is definitely the big boy on its block.

In late 2007, Catsimatidis created United Refining Energy and took it public on the American Stock Exchange.