BPCherry Point prepares for future needs

Published on Thu, Aug 5, 2004 by ack Kintner

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BP Cherry Point prepares for future needs

By Jack Kintner

The BP Cherry Point Refinery, the northwest’s largest refinery with a production capacity of 230,000 barrels per day, shut down this spring for 40 days and 40 nights for an intense but ultimately successful periodic maintenance before starting up again last month.

“What we call the turn around is basically planned maintenance,” said Mike Abendhoff, director of public affairs for the oil refinery. With the BP refinery running 24/7, the only way to do major maintenance that’s “seamless and efficient,” according to Abendhoff, “is to shut down the apparatus, go inside and fix, repair or replace as needed and then get it back up and running.”

This year’s turn around began on May Day and took 45 days, employed over 2,000 extra workers and cost over $40 million. “We can’t expect our regular guys to do it all,” Abendhoff continued, “so we regularly bring in extra people.”

With the ability to daily produce products ranging from automobile gas to heavy oils and flammable gasses, BP Cherry Point is the fifth largest refinery on the west coast, being barely nudged for fourth place by a facility in Carson, California, that can produce 250,000 barrels a day.

What Abendhoff called the “heart” of the refinery is a large hydrocracking unit the size of a good-sized Seattle office building that takes the long chain petroleum molecules and “cracks” or separates them into various commercial grade products. The BP refinery process uses hydrogen, hence the term hydrocracking. “Conoco Phillips does it chemically,” he said.

The hydrogen process works with catalysts such as platinum that need to be replaced, Abendhoff said, which is one of many tasks accomplished in the maintenance period. “We also vent some of the gasses when purging the units we’re working on,” he said, “which caused some concern because of the flaring, but it’s the safest way to do that.”

Most of what’s being burned on the top of the venting towers are propanes and butanes that can’t be re-captured, “and they burn clean. If they didn’t you’d see black smoke, but you won’t, just like the big plumes of steam you see are sometimes mistaken for smoke, too, but they do evaporate soon after leaving the stacks they come out of,” he said.

Refinery seeks to use excess heat in co-generation facility
According to Abendhoff, over 70 percent of the power going into the northwest power grid is hydro-electric. Once thought to be nearly limitless, it’s liable to fluctuations due to the vagaries of weather, competing demands from new water users and the needs of fragile natural fisheries upstream that need the water to flow often at a time when it’s at its lowest volume.

BP’s solution is to use the excess heat generated by the refining process in combination with natural gas-fired steam turbines to produce electricity, along with steam that can be reclaimed for its own refining process. The refinery’s pumps and compressors are already steam powered, but the boilers are outmoded and, in contemporary technology, not as clean as they could be. In 2002 the refinery applied to not just replace the boilers but to build a whole new power generating plant fueled by Canadian natural gas that would produce 720 megawatts of steady, uninterruptible power, only 10 to 15 percent of which would be needed to run the refinery. The refinery itself uses “anywhere from 85 to 100 megawatts,” said Abendhoff, “meaning we can send the excess into the power grid to help alleviate what we see as a looming northwest energy shortage in the years to come.”

BP already has so-called co-generation plants at its other five U.S. refineries, where boilers generate steam that spins generators to produce electricity. The heating process is supplemented by using otherwise wasted heat from the refinery process, hence the term.
Abendhoff said that the excess power could be used for other newly constructed industrial facilities that could be located nearby on land already zoned for such purposes, or simply sent into the power grid. BP plans to build the facility on the southeast corner of Blaine and Grandview roads.

The issue is currently before the Washington State Energy Site Evaluation Council. Objections to the project filed by the Whatcom County Council were recently lifted when BP agreed to increased noise controls and extra protections for wildlife. “We negotiated with them for months,” said county council member Sharon Roy of Birch Bay, “and I’m confident the settlement we’ve come to protects habitat and guarantees no more noise pollution from the process.”

Particular concern was raised over nearby nesting sites for Great Blue Herons, especially in light of the recent abandonment of one of the continent’s largest rookeries for the birds in Point Roberts. Mike Torpey, environmental manager for the project, is conducting a year-long study of 110 acres of adjacent wetlands that will be completed next March and addresses ways of making the area heron-friendly.

Another issue is air pollution, since burning natural gas gives off particulate matter in the form of unburned carbon particles, or charcoal. “The people sensitive to particulate matter, such as asthmatics, may react to the size of the effluent the new plant will produce. As far as I know there’s no way of scrubbing that out, though I haven’t really analyzed it,” said Point Whitehorn resident and former Intalco draftsman Dave Determan, who dealt with a similar effluent problem in that facility.

According to Abendhoff, a new co-generation facility would mean a net gain in carbon dioxide emissions but a net loss in both nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide emissions compared to what the refinery now produces. “We can reduce or use or even shut down some of the older and less efficient systems we use,” he said, “because the steam produced can still be sent back into the refinery to turn pumps and compressors after it’s used by the turbines to generate electricity.”
Abendhoff said that there are people who are supportive of BP’s design while at the same time opposing a similar facility in Sumas, SE-2.

“Other opposition may have to do with people who are simply anti-growth,” Abendhoff said, “since it not only stabilizes jobs for the 800 people who work [for the refinery] but will also employ another 30 at the facility and even more at industries it will help attract.” This is in addition to the estimated $4.6 million in new property taxes and $10 million in construction taxes and fees the project will provide, Abendhoff said.

For more information on the co-gen facility, to be located at the southeast corner of Grandview and Blaine roads inside the present refinery campus, go to http:// www.cpcogen.com.