Refinery upgrade hailed as great news

SAINT JOHN - Political leaders are hailing Irving Oil Ltd.'s decision to invest $220 million in upgrading its refinery as an impressive sign of confidence in the city from a major employer.


Massive cranes jut into the sky as the $220-million turnaround at the Irving Oil refinery begins. At its peak, 1,800 people will be employed during the project and $200 million will be pumped into the region’s economy.

Officials with Canada's largest refinery formally announced the ambitious project Friday that is billed as one of the plant's largest to date, employing as many as 1,800 people at its peak.

Given economic conditions, the project "should let all the folks know, not only in our community, not only in our province - but around the world - that Irving Oil is committed to New Brunswick, is committed to the energy hub, is committed to their facility," provincial Energy Minister Jack Keir said.

The maintenance project, designed to improve the reliability and efficiency of the refinery, is scheduled to take place over 60 days between September and November.

Irving Oil expects from 400 to 500 of the employees required for the project are already working at the refinery. The company is hiring most of the remaining crews from New Brunswick, with about 100 coming from western provinces.

"We are here for a very long haul and this is the best way we can demonstrate that," said Mike Ashar, president of Irving Oil.

The majority of the work will be done on a massive piece of equipment that converts heavy oil into components for light fuels, such as ultra-low sulphur gasoline.

The work will include maintenance of the unit's filtering components and its 6,000 feet of pipe.

The unit, built during the refinery's $1-billion King of Cats upgrade, is about 12 storeys tall. Crews were busy Friday working on every one of the floors, said Glen Kettlewell, manager of major projects with the refinery.

Crews are separately building components of vessels on site and will install them using tall cranes.

Among other activities related to the upgrade project, crews will modify a unit that provides ultra-low sulphur gasoline, improving its ability to remove sulphur from gasoline products.

"This investment is not just about keeping the doors open, it's much more than that; it's about making sure that we upgrade this asset so it performs well for the next 80-plus years," Ashar told reporters.

"There are 800 refineries in the world and I would say our reliability is well within the top 10 per cent; this will take us closer to the very top of good, clean, safe, reliable performance."

Irving Oil estimates the project will generate $200 million in economic spinoffs in the Saint John area, with crews eating at restaurants, staying at hotels and shopping.

"The influx of the money that will be spent in our restaurants, hotels, clothing stores will benefit the local economy," Mayor Ivan Court said.

"This establishes that the Irvings are here to stay and they want to give back to the community and want to make sure that they can compete and provide quality products that are required in the United States and other areas."


The turnaround at the Irving Oil refinery will employ 1,800 people and put $200 million back into the region’s economy.


Glen Kettlewell, manager of major projects at the Irving Oil Refinery, stands in front of one of the units that is at the centre of the upgrading.


Source: Published Saturday September 12th, 2009 - Telegraph Journal