PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

November 9, 2012

Motiva says expansion to be fully operational in 2013

BEAUMONT — The Motiva refinery opened its doors Friday for the first time since part of its $10 billion expansion project was put on hold after a leak was found in June, and officials announced the plant will be fully operational early next year.

An unnamed worker was leaving his shift for the day in the middle of June last year when he noticed vapor coming out of one of the new pipes, according to Motiva President Bob Pease. The worker called the facility’s control center and inspectors found corrosion throughout thousands of feet of pipe.

The unit had to be completely shut down and renovated. Now, after months of inspections and repairs, Motiva is almost ready to restart production.

Steve Rathweg, vice president of manufacturing for Motiva/Shell, said the corrosion was caused by high heat combined with a pressure pump feeding into a depressurized plant. He said the leak was the result of a design flaw, not a human error.

“People weren’t really trained to understand this particular issue,” he said. “I would not say it’s an oversight.”

No one was injured or even in immediate danger, Rathweg said, because the vapors and cracks in the pipes were very small. He said news of the design flaw was spread quickly to sister facilities around the world to ensure a similar accident would not happen again.

“We have learned from it,” he said. “We’ve completely redesigned this system.”

Though Motiva lost the 325,000 barrel-a-day production from the unit, the rest of the expansion remained operational, Rathweg said.

Motiva hired approximately 1,400 contractors for the repairs, according to Rathweg, most of which will not be needed when the unit becomes operational.

“I hate to say it, but for the local economy it was probably a boost,” he said.

Pease said about 18 percent of the contractors were hired locally, and the plant made a concerted effort to hire businesses woned by women and minorities.

All of the more than 300 permenant workers hired to operate the unit are still employed, Pease said, and most of them help with repairs.

“We knew we were going to be restarting all the equipement we palnned to run, so everybody stayed on board,” he said. “We don’t anticipate any fundemental shifts from a hiring standpoint.”

Pease would not comment on the total cost of the repairs or how much money Motiva projected losing by shutting down the unit. However, he did say the facility expects some of the new equipment to be covered by insurance.

In addition to the production from a fully-functioning facility, Pease said the Motiva plant would be “a very good fit” for crude oil that may one day come from the Keystone Pipeline.

TransCanada, an international enegy company, has been working for years on a pipleline that would stretch from the crude oil fields in Canada to the gulf coast in Texas. The company is currently building the southern half of the pipeline, which runs from Oklahoma to the coast.

“The Keystone pipeline makes a lot of sense for the U.S. economy, and this plant would be very well equiped to run those crudes,” Pease said. “If it doesn’t, we have access to crudes all over the world.”

The expansion at Motiva started in 2005 but hit a wall in 2009 when the economy went bad. It was completed two years behind schedule and costs exceeded the projected budget by a reported $5 billion.

Sometime in 2013, the facility exapnsions that are more than seven years in the making should fully operational.

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