About 7,000 tradesman are still working on the BP Whiting Refinery project, or about half as many as had been employed during the peak of the construction.
Workers recently finished the new north flare stack and upgrades to the oil refinery's wastewater treatment plant. They still need to finish construction on key components, including a new sulfur recovery unit.
Since 2008, BP has been upgrading the Whiting facility so it can process more crude oil from Canada, and also to cut down on emissions. New state-of-the-art equipment has been installed, including a hydrotreater that will remove more sulfur and nitrogen from gas oil. The $3.8 billion dollar project is the largest private-sector investment in Indiana history.
As many as 14,000 workers have worked at the refinery modernization, which local business leaders credit with saving Northwest Indiana's construction industry during the economic downturn.
BP, the London-based energy giant, recently gave Lake County fire chiefs an updated risk management plan and brought in fire chiefs from Whiting, Hammond and East Chicago for a tour of the new flare stack and gas oil hydrotreater. They were shown the new fire suppression and emergency shutdown systems, so they could use them in the event of a major fire at the refinery.
Like a few other large manufacturers in North Lake County, the Whiting Refinery has its own fire department. BP's own firefighters put out most minor fires, but outside departments are summoned to help battle any major blazes, spokesman Tom Keilman said.
"Typically, we do not rely on those fire departments to assist us," Keilman said. "But we want to make them aware of our systems, if we were to require their services during a major event."
The massive refinery on Lake Michigan's south shore also has its own wastewater treatment plant. Workers recently finished installing new filters in the facility, and BP is looking the feasibility of putting in an ultraviolet disinfectant system in the future.
"We are currently exploring emerging technology and working with the Purdue Water Institute to figure out our next step," Keilman said.
What's left with the project is the completion of the sulfur recovery unit, the gas oil hydrotreater and the petroleum coker. The new coker, which will be more automated, will be the second largest in the world and will be capable of processing 102,000 barrels per day.
Work on the centerpiece of the project – the 250,000 barrel-per-day crude distillation unit that is known as the No. 12 Pipe Still – was finished earlier this year. BP successfully started up the new unit, restoring the refinery to its full processing capacity of 413,000 barrels per day.
The rest of the work is still slated to be finished by the end of the year, Keilman said.
By the time the project is completed, workers will have installed 380 miles of pipe, 1,200 pieces of major equipment and 600 shop-fabricated modules. They will have used 50,000 tons of steel.
The investment is expected to sustain 1,850 jobs at the sprawling Whiting Refinery, which stretches into East Chicago and Hammond.