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In a landmark move, BP plc (BP - Analyst Report) recently brought online its 250,000 barrel per day crude distillation unit at the Whiting Refinery after concluding its commissioning. This is the British oil giant’s largest refinery in the U.S.

The start-up forms part of the facility’s multi-billion dollar upgrade in Northwest Indiana and is projected to generate an incremental operating cash flow of $1 billion per year.

The large, high-tech Whiting Refinery returns the facility’s processing capacity to its maximum effect of 413,000 barrels per day. The plant will initially process light, sweet crude and will gradually proceed towards commissioning of the remaining upgrades to the plant.

The new coking and hydrotreating units are expected to be brought online and start operating at full capacity in the second half of the current year. Consequently, the reconfigured refinery will have the flexibility to greatly boost heavy, sour crude processing.

The upgrade project at the Whiting Refinery is more than 95% complete. In the later half of 2013, BP expects to establish a new 105,000 barrel per day gasoil hydrotreater, a large 102,000 barrel per day coker and other associated units. Once all the new equipment start operating at 100% capacity, the refinery will process heavy, sour crude, accounting for about 80% of its overall crude run.

The company is also upgrading several of its other refineries, including those in Chery Point, Washington and Toledo, Ohio.

BP carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). However, there are other Zacks Ranked #1 (Strong Buy) stocks – PetroQuest Energy Inc. (PQ - Snapshot Report), Ocean Rig UDW Inc. (ORIG - Snapshot Report) and Hornbech Offshore Services, Inc. (HOS - Snapshot Report) – that are expected to perform impressively over the short term.

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