Refinery turnarounds: spring cleaning with big economic impact

mai 21, 2015  
In the spring, refineries often close down for a short period of time. The shutdown is called a turnaround, and it’s the oil industry equivalent of spring cleaning.

During this time, refineries carry out inspections and replace or upgrade equipment to ensure safety, reliability and improve environmental performance. For example, see our recent blog on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While most Canadians are tidying up homes and yards with a helper or two, a turnaround can employ thousands of workers to carry out the upgrades. It can take from a few days to a several weeks, and it’s a pretty expensive operation.

It’s a big job

The Irving Oil refinery, for example, invested $60 million last spring, and employed 2,000 workers for a million hours. The turnaround was such a big event, it had a $51.6 million impact on New Brunswick’s GDP.

This is in part because the many workers needed food, accommodation and other necessities, which benefited the local economy.

Turnarounds of this size generally happen every three to four years. Considering the enormity of the job, it’s not surprising that they can take years of planning. Refineries calculate all operations down to the hour, and ensure that everything is done safely and efficiently.

Because of their complexity, and due to a number of non-routine procedures, refiners take care to provide extensive safety training and put in place comprehensive emergency plans.

Chevron, for example, recently completed its largest-ever turnaround at the Burnaby, B.C. refinery, and it went without a hitch.

“With so many people on site conducting potentially hazardous activities, we know we need to be vigilant to maintain an incident and injury-free environment,” said Steve Parker, general manager of the refinery.

Timing is everything

Turnarounds often are done in the spring, because that’s when refiners change the gasoline and diesel “recipes.” Gasoline formulations are changed to prevent evaporation during the summer. Diesel is modified from the winter recipe by removing properties that prevent it from clouding in cold temperatures.

Spring also is the end of the peak heating oil season, and a time when transportation fuel demand falls off a bit.

Fall also sees its share of turnarounds, as refiners switch back to winter blends. In either case, refiners make sure there is consistent supply by stocking products in terminals or on barges ahead of time.

In this way, refiners ensure Canadians stay on the road, while they continue to upgrade their facilities.
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