Murphy Exits Refineries, Enters Electric Vehicles

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 12:00 am  

A customer charges her Nissan Leaf at Murphy USA of El Dorado's new retail charger at a gas station in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Murphy Oil Corp. of El Dorado, in jettisoning its refinery business and rolling out its first electric vehicle charging station, seems to be eyeing a world that's a bit less oily.

Since July 2010, the company has been making a mad dash out of the oil refinery business. At the beginning of 2011, Murphy owned three oil refineries - one in Wisconsin, one in Louisiana and one in Great Britain.

As of last week, the two domestic facilities have been packed up and sold.

The sales make plenty of sense: The Meraux, La., refinery cost Murphy big bucks when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. The residents of Meraux weren't too thrilled when a million gallons of oil spilled through their town, damaging 10,000 homes.

The victims sued Murphy and in January 2007, the company settled the lawsuit for $330 million.

Five years later, both refineries were found to have violated the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act, costing Murphy $1.25 million in fines. Of that, $625,000 went to the U.S. government, $229,687 to Wisconsin and $395,312 to Louisiana. The company then set about spending $142 million to fix the problems that led to the fines.

The two complexes finally sold for a total of about $1 billion. Meraux went to Valero Energy Corp. of San Antonio, and the refinery in Superior, Wis., went to Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP of Indianapolis.

The third refinery is in Milford Haven, Wales, and is still up for sale. Murphy owns 457 gas stations across Great Britain.

David M. Wood, Murphy's CEO, has said the refineries accounted for $4.2 million, or 0.5 percent, of Murphy's 2009 net income of $837.6 million. In the first-quarter earnings report, Wood said he hopes to focus Murphy's efforts on exploration, production and retail.

The company ended the first half of 2011 with profit of $580 million on revenue of $16 billion.

 

Charging to the Future

One of the ways Murphy is exploring outside the oil market is in the burgeoning realm of electric transportation. It announced recently the installation of a vehicle charger at a gasoline station in Chattanooga, Tenn.

According to Murphy USA President Tom McKinlay, the location was chosen for both nostalgic and strategic reasons.

"In 1996, we rolled out a new retail fuels business built around one simple concept: to deliver fuel and quality products that the consumer wants at low prices," he said in a release. "We launched that concept at a store just a few miles down the road here in Chattanooga."

Now Murphy has about 1,100 stores in more than 23 states. Murphy also chose Chattanooga for its proximity to a Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., which in late 2012 will begin manufacturing the fully electric Leaf series of cars.

The charging technology, officially named the Retail Electric Charging Station, was developed by Eaton Corp. of Cleveland. The DC-3 charger can replenish an electric vehicle's power to 80 percent capacity in less than 30 minutes, as opposed to up to six hours with a residential AC charger. Eaton reported the retail chargers were intended to relieve the "range anxiety" drivers of electric cars face, as fully electric vehicles are known to have less range than their gasoline-powered cousins.

Moreover, the service is provided at no cost. As electric charger retail models evolve, it may not always remain this way, but any price should be a relief to those used to rising gasoline prices: Nissan reports on its website that the average cost of fully charging a Leaf, whether at home or on the road, should be about $2.75.

"At Murphy USA, we will use the electric vehicle charging station to help us better understand this new and growing market segment," McKinlay said during a speech in Chattanooga. "And also to test how we can build this concept into our business."

He said Murphy was the first retailer to deploy the DC-3. Data from Murphy reveals that the Chattanooga station is a guinea pig and will be used to determine where the company will expand its electric services next.

"Use of the infrastructure will also allow us to advise the manufacturers on any consumer interface issues such as the dispenser design and nozzle design," a report states. "Additional analysis will be placed on consumer behavior, charging activity and overall station performance."

Murphy reported it will install chargers based on which areas currently have access to electric vehicles. Those areas include Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; Washington, D.C.; Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston; Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego; Seattle; and Portland, Eugene, Corvalis and Salem, Ore.

"We don't currently have any information from the manufacturers on deployment in Arkansas," the report said.

The EV Project, a program driven by renewable energy company ECOtality of Phoenix and funded by a $99.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, hopes to have 14,000 charging stations online by 2012. Pike Research, a firm that investigates clean technology, reported a year ago that by 2017, about 1.5 million charging locations will be in available in the U.S., added to a total of 7.7 million locations worldwide. Pike reported the leading countries in electric cars will be China, Japan and Korea due to government incentives and directives.

 

SIDEBAR:

Murphy Oil Refineries

Superior, Wis.

Production: 35,000 barrels per day

Sold to: Calumet Specialty Project Partners LP of Indianapolis

Price: $474 million

Meraux, La.

Production: 125,000 barrels per day

Sold to: Subsidiary of Valero Energy Corp. of San Antonio

Price: $585 million

Milford Haven, Wales

Production: 108,000 barrels per day

Sold to: Remains unsold

 

 

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