WHITING | The $4.2 billion modernization project at the BP Whiting Refinery is on target to end this year, bringing to close a project heralded as the largest single private investment in state history.
Work is more than 90 percent complete on the project, BP spokesman Scott Dean said. The new crude distillation unit is expected to start up this month, with two other critical pieces of equipment — the new coker and gas oil hydrotreater — coming online later in the year.
The company officially will open a new office building at Schrage Avenue and 121st Street this summer.
“This project was one of the bright spots in the Northwest Indiana economy during the recession, and indeed by positioning this refinery in continuing to be competitive and produce quality fuels for people throughout the region, it's cementing a number of jobs,” Dean said.
The five-year project increases the sophistication of the Whiting Refinery to process a wider range of North American crude oils, which recently have become available in the continental United States and Canada, Dean said.
While the refinery’s capacity will remain the same at 413,000 barrels of crude oil per day, fuel production is anticipated to rise by 15 percent.
Last year BP agreed to spend more than $400 million for additional environmental controls at the refinery in a settlement with federal and state agencies and several environmental groups.
Dean said no further expansions of the Whiting Refinery are planned at this time.
Close to 10,000 contract workers remain on-site, though those numbers are expected to decrease as the project ends.
In April, Meade Electric Co. Inc. issued a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notice stating plans to lay off employees working on the project beginning later this month.
Randy Palmateer, business manager for the Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council, said some 6,000 tradesmen and women represented by the council are still working on the modernization project. Palmateer doesn't expect the end of the project to impact the local building trades because jobs are coming up at NIPSCO, local steels mills and at local commercial projects.
Palmateer said a number of contract workers will need to stay at the refinery to do turnaround work and start up the new units.
“It was a great boon in the economy. It was the only show in town for a while,” Palmateer said. “We were a little nervous because we knew it was winding down, but all of the sudden you have NIPSCO, the steel industry and light commercial. We'll just shift all the manpower that gets laid off out there into that market.”