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It's tough being a crude oil refiner these days. Demand for refined products remains sluggish. Meanwhile, crude -- the very stuff refiners buy that gets whirled and processed into gasoline, diesel and other fuels -- has only gotten more expensive in recent months. The resulting squeeze has left dwindling margins for refinery operations and little expectation of an immediate recovery.

If you still have no idea what this is about, just go around the corner and check the price at the pump. Gasoline prices have ticked higher in recent days in reaction to some shuttering of production in the refiner ranks.


Valero Energy

(VLO) - Get Valero Energy Corporation Report

for example. On Tuesday, the nation's largest independent refiner reported a bigger-than-forecast 39-cent a share loss in the most recently completed quarter, citing the aforementioned demand sluggishness.

Even European integrated oil major


(BP) - Get BP Plc Report

, which handily beat the Wall Street earnings consensus and impressed investors on Tuesday, still saw profits slide 54% in its refining segment.

The question, then, is simple. Of a few of the usual suspects -- Valero,


(SUN) - Get Sunoco LP Report


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Western Refining



Frontier Oil





-- which stand-alone refining operation do you think will have the best, or least worst, third quarter?

-- Written by Sung Moss in New York

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