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Anacortes American: Shell open house will showcase improvements at refinery

By Kimberly Jacobson – American staff writer 
 
After putting more than $400 million into the facility, it’s time for Shell Puget Sound Refinery to celebrate.

“Employees want to have the public come in to show off all the great things we’ve been doing,” said Tom Wood, human resources and external affairs manager.

Wood said recently there has been an inward focus at the refinery.

“We want to get out there and be a part of the community,” he said.

The refinery will host a community open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26. The event is free. Members of the community are invited to come to the refinery, located at 8505 South Texas Road. The event will feature free food and entertainment for all ages, information booths from several local businesses as well as fun and games for the kids.

“This is a way for us to open our doors to the community so that they can learn more about what we do here,” said Sue Krienen, general manager of Shell Puget Sound Refinery. “This event is one opportunity we have to thank the community for its continued support. We want to make this a great time for everyone and we hope people will come and enjoy themselves.”

One of the biggest recent developments is increasing hiring. Wood said there have been few hirings the past couple years, but the company is entering a phase of more regular hiring in the next few years as people retire and progress. 

The recent focus at the refinery has been on upgrading the facility to comply with more stringent regulations and to minimize environmental impact, Wood said.

“There’s been a lot of investment recently,” he said.

Some of the added equipment includes a flare gas recovery system, which means fewer emissions, and the wet gas scrubber project which helps clean the sulfur our of products.

The new units spurred the open house to allow community members to tour the facility and “see all the new things that we’ve been adding within our refinery,” Wood said.

The refinery was officially opened by Texaco in 1958. In January 1998, Texaco joined forces with Shell to form a company called Equilon Enterprises LLC. In October 2001, Texaco and Chevron decided to merge, creating ChevronTexaco. 
 
Because of Chevron’s already strong presence on the West Coast, Texaco was required to sell its ownership in Equilon. Shell purchased Texaco’s interest in Equilon and is now the exclusive owner of the facility and the rest of what was Equilon.

On March 1, 2002, the Equilon Puget Sound Refining Company officially became Shell Puget Sound Refinery. It is part of Shell Oil Products U.S.

The plant has 420 full-time employees working at the facility with more than 100 contractors employed on an ongoing basis. Positions include running board workers who use state of the art computer systems to monitor performance for the units; outside operations employees who provide surveillance and make sure machines are running correctly; maintenance workers including electricians and mechanics; and staff engineers and technical professionals.

Shell expects to be able to fulfill its refined products supply contracts along the West Coast for the foreseeable future, despite the situation at the BP Prudhoe Bay facility affecting Alaskan North Slope Crude (ANS) availability, according to a press release.

Earlier this month, BP said it would shut down Prudhoe Bay — the biggest oil field in the nation — because of a small leak and severe pipeline corrosion. Energy officials said the pipeline repairs are likely to take months, curtailing Alaskan production into next year.

The Puget Sound refinery typically runs on a fluctuating percentage of ANS crude. The refinery has crude on hand but has begun to run at slightly reduced rates because of the ANS crude situation. In the meantime, they have sourced additional refined product supplies to make up for any reduced production at the Puget Sound refinery for the weeks ahead.

In the longer term, Shell is working to secure sufficient supplies of crude from alternate sources in order to return the refinery to full operations as quickly as possible.

Wood said they also get Canadian crudes and can transition over for the future. The second-largest deposit of crude oil in the world is in Canada, and the facility is thinking about how they can tap into that major source, he said.

Using energy, heat and technology, the refinery can process up to 145,000 barrels per day.

“It’s absolutely astounding what we do,” Wood said. “It’s fantastic what engineers and employees are able to do at this facility.”

Crude oil comes into the refinery, which is basically a big distilling plant. It is heated to bring the lighter products to the top and the heavier to the bottom.

Products like jet fuel, kerosene, gasoline and diesel are shipped by barge or pipeline primarily to Seattle, Tacoma and northern Oregon, Wood said.

Coke, which is one of the heavier products, starts in a liquid form. After it is hardened it is shipped out primarily on barges or trucks to Canada to be used in the processing of aluminum.

Wood said they are constantly working on projects to eliminate bottle necking in the process, where one point in the process slows things down. He said they are in the process of trying to expand their ability to run more crude oil more reliably.

He said they are also looking to improve reliability in technology, perhaps with a new operations center.

“Right now we have a good, strong, balanced refinery,” Wood said.

Open house tour runs every 30 minutes

Learn about your Shell Puget Sound Refinery at an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26.

Community members of all ages will be entertained by activities, including a salsa band and dancing, magic show, rock climbing wall, batting cage, golf driving simulator, bingo, obstacle course and a virtual reality motion simulator. Various carnival-style games such as a beanbag toss, bottle ring toss and tic-tac-toe toss will be available. Kids will be able to bounce the day away on an inflatable bouncy castle, try to find hidden dollar bills in a haystack, take a swing at a piñata as well as enjoy cotton candy and snow cones.

The Kiwanis Club will serve hot dogs and chips, the Lions Club will provide fish sandwiches and chips and the Rotary Club will be grilling hamburgers with potato salad served on the side. Ice cream, coffee, pop and water will also be provided free of charge.

Tour buses will leave every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to take people on guided tours of the refinery’s facility. Shell Puget Sound Refinery employees will serve as tour guides. Tours will feature information about the plant’s general operations as well as more detailed information about each stage of the refining process. Participants will learn about what products are produced at Shell Puget Sound Refinery, how they’re produced and what happens to the products once they leave the refinery.

In order to provide the highest level of safety, all tour riders 16 years and older will be asked to show a picture ID prior to boarding a tour bus. A parent or guardian must accompany children under the age of 12 taking a bus tour. Cameras and recording devices are not permitted on the tour buses.

Due to safety concerns, fireworks and weapons of any kind will be strictly prohibited from the event.

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