By CARL GREEN
Wood River IL – Philips 66 is moving ahead with an expansion of the Wood River Refinery that company officials expect will employ about 750 union construction workers for up to two years.
The project is a continuation of the Coker and Refinery Expansion (CORE) project, begun in 2009 and completed in 2011 – a $3.8 billion project that created about 2,500 construction jobs enlarging the plant capacity and reducing its emissions.
The new work is not on that scale but will substantially increase the amount of construction work being performed at the refinery. It is in addition to normal maintenance turnaround work.
The project was outlined Nov. 13 at a public hearing of the Illinois EPA in Wood River.
Jason Schnepp of IEPA said the work will include construction of two fractionation columns, which are used to break crude oil into its component parts for use in products such as gasoline and diesel fuel.
Also, a new boiler will be constructed to provide steam power to the towers, a new cooling tower will be constructed, and two new storage tanks will be needed for the resulting oil products, he said. Previous plans to restart an existing catalytic cracking unit were canceled, he added.
Some of the work will be done at Philips’ adjacent Hartford Terminal.
The hearing was called because the new project will require a revision of air emissions permits issued by the IEPA for the original CORE project. But the new work is expected to further reduce the amount of emissions, so the IEPA is proposing to issue the revised permits, and nobody from the public spoke against doing so at the hearing.
The public comment period remains open, so plans can’t be considered final. But if no further opposition appears, permits could be issued as soon as February or March, and that would allow construction to begin.
In his statement at the hearing, refinery manager Jay Churchill said the new equipment is needed to adapt to the crude oil market.
“This permit revision comes about as a result of a change to the composition of the crude that we had intended to run with the original CORE permit,” he said.
The current available crude is somewhat lighter than the crude that was expected when the original project was put into place. Both types come Canadian deposits called oil sands.
WIN-WIN FOR COMMUNITY
Churchill described the new project and its predecessor as win-win deals for the community and the environment.
“The Coker and refinery expansion project, as originally permitted, was a very valuable project to this area. It represented what I would call a very good, sustainable project for the region,” he said.
“By sustainable, I mean something that creates jobs and economic development and also meets environmental requirements and permitting.
“And in this case, this project actually reduced emissions from the refinery while creating jobs and economic prosperity in the area, and we’re very proud of that.”
The company sees the new project as a continuation of the previous one.
Over the past 10 years, Churchill said, the refinery has substantially reduced its nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide emissions and its gas flaring as well.
Meanwhile, construction work continues on a low-sulfur diesel unit already under way.
The new project might have come on-line earlier, but the company first sought to settle a disagreement over how much its property tax valuation should increase because of the ongoing improvements.
Some local taxing districts, including the Roxana School District, sought a higher valuation than the company felt was appropriate at current refinery valuation levels industry-wide, potentially putting the refinery at a competitive disadvantage.
But after long negotiations, a final settlement to the matter has been completed and filed, and the parties are now awaiting copies of it.
1.8 MILLION MAN-HOURS
Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, said Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber played an important role in helping to break the deadlock.
“It would not have taken place if not for the work Bob Daiber did for us,” Stewart told the council at its Nov. 13 meeting.
“They’re looking at about 1.8 million man-hours at least next year, and probably more than that the following year,” he added. “That’s good news.”
Daiber said at the meeting that he had a good reason to get involved in the talks.
“It was all about jobs and the future expansion of the refinery,” he said. “It’s got such a big future.”
Melissa Erker, director of government and community affairs for the refinery, said the company is looking forward to collaborating with the Building and Construction Trades Council and local workers on the project.
The Council, area contractors and the company all agreed to the “Wood River Refinery Code of Excellence,” which sets standards for safety, performance, conduct, leadership, planning, teamwork, job staging, materials, tools and equipment, she said.
And in past projects, local workers have compiled excellent records for their safety and skills.
Said Erker: “We like our home-grown folks the best.”