May 12 2008

ConocoPhillips refinery tour

by in East Coast, North America, United States

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Last month, I toured the ConocoPhillips refinery located on the Delaware River in Trainer, Pennsylvania, which is just outside Philadelphia. The Trainer refinery has a processing capacity of 185,000 barrels a day, and processes light, low-sulfur crude oil from West Africa, Canada and the North Sea. I have previously toured an LNG terminal and a facility that produces gas turbines, but I’ve never been to a refinery before, so this was all very new to me. (The ultimate coup, I think would be a tour of an offshore rig in the Caspian Sea or or perhaps the Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico.)

The refinery tour was organized by the DC chapter of Young Professionals in Energy (YPE), which, as you’ve probably gathered, is an organization of young professionals who work for the various energy trade associations (like yours truly), government agencies, corporations, and consulting firms that are headquartered in Washington. If you were to look at the membership list, the sheer amount of acronyms would make your head spin.

While the refinery was obviously the main attraction on this field trip, the 2.5 hour bus ride to Philly was eventful in and of itself. We were driving north on I-95, the main highway on the east coast, when our driver suddenly swerved into the left hand lane, which was under construction, and came to a stop in the grassy median that divides the highway. He then proceeded to yell “I gotta go!”, jump out of the bus, and run to the porta-potty on the median. We were all rather puzzled, and exchanged several “WTF?” looks. Our driver returned a few minutes later, announced “Now I gotta figure out how the eff to get outta here!” and started to back the bus out of the construction lane (which was sealed off with, you know, jersey barriers and cones and what not). Amazingly, he managed to get the bus out of the construction lane and back onto the freeway without killing all 25 of us.

We arrived at the refinery about an hour late due to several unscheduled stops like the one described above. ConocoPhillips provided us with a nice, warm lunch, so we dug in while the company representatives performed the standard safety briefing (as to be expected, it was much more thorough than the one we received at Chernobyl). The safety briefing was followed by a thorough overview of the refinery’s operations and the various structures we would be seeing on the tour as well as a Q&A with the refinery manager and other representatives from the various departments.

What we were really looking forward to, of course, was the tour of the facility. Bill, the Public Affairs director, led us on a tour of the refinery, while our bus driver miraculously managed to not run into anything and start a fire. I imagine if he had, we probably would not have been invited back. A few of the things we saw on the tour: gas flare (acts as a safety device), catalytic reformer, cracking unit, liquefied gas storage units, cooling towers, and the dock facilities where the tankers unload their crude. This post would probably make a lot more sense if there were photos, but for security reasons you obviously cannot go around posting photos of energy infrastructure.

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Group photo

Overall, the tour was very enjoyable and I have a much greater appreciation for all the work required to refine crude into something my SUV can digest. Many thanks to Bill and the other ConocoPhillips employees for hosting the tour, as well as providing us all with souvenir mini mag lights to take home.

On a final note, our driver’s bizarre behavior continued on the trip back home. He almost hit a few cars, including a SEMI TRUCK, exited the freeway and entered a lane for a truck scale (WTF?), and took a “shortcut” through Laurel that added 20 minutes to our journey time. Well, at least we left the refinery unscathed.

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One Response to ConocoPhillips refinery tour

  1. From Ann:

    Wow… that driver sure was special…

    Posted on May 13, 2008 at 9:46 am #
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