In March 1904, Vacuum Oil was officially incorporated under Victorian Law as a proprietary company. In 1906 the company issued Australia's first ever chart of "Recommendations to Motorists" covering about 200 makes of car and highlighting the increasing range of lubricating products Vacuum Oil had available. By 1908, Vacuum was growing rapidly and merged with the Colonial Oil Co, a company marketing kerosene and motor spirit, adding to Vacuum's specialty lubricant products. In 1916, Vacuum introduced its popular "Plume" (petrol) and "Laurel" (kerosene) brands to the Australian market which would develop the operations significantly. A year later, Vacuum brought its first 100 gallon, horse drawn tank wagon into service.
As motor vehicles became more popular in Australia, Vacuum expanded its operations. In 1924 Vacuum opened its first bulk petroleum products terminal at Pulpit Point in Sydney and took delivery of its first imported bulk oil products cargo, a 1.5 million gallon shipment carried from the United States by the tanker "HT Harper".
A decade later, Vacuum introduced "Ethyl", Australia's first Super grade motor spirit. Around the same time in the US, Vacuum's parent company, Vacuum Oil Inc, merged with the Standard Oil Company of New York to form Socony Vacuum, which subsequently became Socony Mobil and ultimately, Mobil. Socony Mobil introduced the Flying Red Horse (Pegasus) logo which first appeared in Australia in 1939 and became one of Australia's best recognised corporate symbols.
Following the take-over in 1933 of the Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) (later Exxon) by Atlantic Union Oil Company, the eastern hemisphere interests of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) were merged with Socony-Vacuum Oil Company (later Mobil) to create Standard-Vacuum Oil Company (Stanvac).
Early construction of Altona Refinery
In October 1946, Mobil began constructing the Altona Refinery near Melbourne. The refinery commenced operations in June 1949, initially making lubricating oil and bitumen from imported crude oil. In 1955, a multi-million dollar expansion program came on stream extending the refinery's product range into motor vehicle fuels and, in 1956, it produced Australia's first locally made aviation gasoline.
In 1958, Mobil unveiled plans to build an oil refinery at Port Stanvac, south of Adelaide and operations began in 1963. At the same time, Mobil announced the construction of a major petrochemical plant near the Altona Refinery that produced its first products for sale in June 1961.
The discovery of vast reserves of crude oil and gas in Bass Strait in the early 1960's changed the Australian refining industry dramatically, as most companies changed to processing the locally produced oil instead of importing their raw materials. In 1970 further expansion and modification of the Altona Refinery was completed, making it possible for Bass Strait crude to be processed.
Mobil announced its return to producing lubricating oils in Australia in 1973, commencing construction of a lubricating oil refinery alongside the existing Adelaide fuels product refinery. The lubricating oil refinery opened in 1976.
In 1985, Mobil negotiated a major asset swap with BP in which Mobil vacated the Western Australia retail market in exchange for acquiring a large portion of BP's South Australian, Victorian and New South Wales retail market. Mobil re-entered the West Australian retail fuel market in December 1995 when it purchased the Amgas service station network and related business.
In late 1990, Mobil purchased Esso Australia's refining and marketing operations. This gave Mobil 100 per cent ownership of Petroleum Refineries (Australia) Pty Ltd, the company that operated both the Altona and Adelaide Refineries.
In 1997 a major modernisation project was completed at the Altona Refinery with Mobil spending $250 million to replace the old Thermofor Catalytic Cracker (TCC) with a modern unit known as a Fluidised Catalytic Cracker (FCC), representing the latest in refinery technology. The FCC significantly improved efficiency by allowing the refinery to process a larger range of crude oil, making it a more competitive purchaser on the international market.
On November 30, 1999 the Australian assets of Esso were merged with those of Mobil as part of the global merger of Exxon Corporation and Mobil Oil Corporation and today Mobil is part of the world's premier petroleum and petrochemical company.
In October 2000, ExxonMobil's Adelaide Refinery was chosen as the first supplier in the world of a new range of high-quality products, the Mobil Synergy Fuel System. The Mobil Synergy Fuel System provided Australian consumers with a range of fuel products incorporating fully synthetic additives to enhance performance. Following a successful launch in Australia, Synergy products were introduced around the world.
In April 2003, ExxonMobil made the decision to discontinue operations at Adelaide Refinery. As one of the smallest refineries in the highly competitive South-East Asian region, Adelaide Refinery found it difficult to compete and became increasingly uneconomic. Production ceased in July 2003, however, as the international refining business environment had the potential to improve, the refinery was maintained in a condition that would will allow a restart should viable operations become sustainable in the future. In June 2009, Mobil announced that it would not restart Adelaide Refinery and would proceed to demolish the facilities and remediate the site.
In November 2005 further upgrades to the Altona Refinery were completed. The major engineering project included the installation of a new Benzene Reduction Unit, and the refurbishment of a decommissioned hydrodesulphurisation (CHD) unit. This upgrade enabled the refinery to produce clean fuels consistent with the new environmental standards, including diesel containing less than 50 parts per million (ppm) sulphur (subsequently reduced to less than 10ppm sulphur in 2009) and petrol containing less than 1 ppm of benzene.
In October 2010, Mobil completed the sale of its retail fuels business to 7-Eleven. Mobil continues to market aviation fuels around Australia and to wholesale petrol and diesel fuels to a large number of distributors, other resellers, industrial and commercial customers.
In 2010/11, Mobil changed the structure of its lubricants marketing business in Australia, moving to a fully distributor serviced model, and ceased operation of the Yarraville (Melbourne) lubricants blending plant which was no longer competitive with other regional facilities. Distributors across Australia now sell Mobil lubricant products supplied via an ExxonMobil affiliate in Singapore.