Updated: December 18, 2013 9:30PM
With the startup of the new coker at BP Whiting Refinery, the last major milestone is complete in the $4.2 billion upgrade that has greatly increased the refinery’s processing capacity of heavy sweet crude.
The 102,000-barrels-per-day coker opened in mid-November, capping a project that started in May 2008 and employed more than 10,000 contractors. It was the largest private sector investment in Indiana history.
The modernization allows BP Whiting to process as much as 85 percent heavy sweet crude, compared to 20 percent capacity before the project began. Previously, the refinery processed the more expensive light, sweet crude, but much of its new supply will be oil-sands crude from Alberta, Canada.
The refinery continues to troubleshoot some post-start-up issues, but BP officials expect to be ready to ramp up the rate of processing from the end of 2013 through the first quarter of 2014, as previously announced. The refinery employs 1,900 people.
In addition to the coker, workers constructed a sulfur recovery complex, a gas oil hydro treater, and a distillation unit.
Iain Conn, chief executive of BP’s downstream segment, believes the refinery now has the potential to create an additional $1 billion in operating cash flow each year, depending on market conditions.
“The safe start-up of this world-scale coker is the last major step in unlocking the full potential of the Whiting Refinery for our shareholders,” Conn said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The project also installed updated air and water monitoring equipment, which cost several hundred million dollars, according to Whiting Refinery manager Nick Spencer. In September, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a wastewater discharge permit for the refinery that limits mercury emissions to 8.75 parts per trillion — a reduction by more than 50 percent over previous limits.
“Our investment in Whiting’s future shows BP’s commitment to safely providing energy and jobs in America,” Spencer said in a statement. “Our focus now is to continue this high standard of safety performance as we operate the plant to produce gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and provide jobs for thousands of people in greater Chicagoland and much of the Midwest for decades to come.”