HAMMOND — BP is investing $300 million in a massive project in Whiting that's creating hundreds of construction jobs.

About 250 workers are now installing a naphtha hydrotreater at the BP Whiting Refinery on Lake Michigan to meet a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate to ensure that gasoline has less than 10 parts per million of sulfur, instead of the current standard of 30 parts per million. BP Whiting Reliability Accelerator Manager Dan Hirsch said it would create about 12 permanent jobs to operate the equipment and employ as many as 500 construction workers at a time over the new few years.

"We're making one of the largest investments in refinery since the modernization project," he said. "A hydrotreater removes sulfur from our fuel. In layman's terms, it makes our gas cleaner. We've actually started the project. You might see some of the equipment moved around on the roads. We're staging our equipment, starting to bring it into the refinery. We're excited to see continued investment into our refinery."

The unit should be up and running by 2020, Hirsch said. It will include two reactors and exchangers that will be located near the center of the refinery.

"It's substantial," Hirsch said. "It will take all different trades to build: electricians, ironworkers, and pipefitters. It'll be different trades as it goes along."

Hirsch updated a crowd of hundreds of business people on the project at a Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Dynasty Banquets in Hammond Wednesday. Mark Finley, general manager of Global Energy Markets and U.S. Economics at BP, gave BP's annual Energy Outlook, a compilation of data about the global energy market that dates back 67 years and precedes even the U.S. Department of Energy.

Global energy demand rose by 3 percent last year, and coal mounted a slight comeback because of increased demand in India and a drought that caused a temporary decline in hydroelectric power production in China, Finley said. 

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But Finley said in the long term coal would continue to decline because of cheap and abundant natural gas and environmental concerns across the globe. China, for instance, relied heavily on coal as it built up its industrial might over the last few decades, but has been trying to switch to cleaner sources of energy, going so far as to post signs saying, "if you burn coal, you go to jail."

"When countries are poor, they'll use whatever source of energy is cheapest," Finley said. "They'll burn dung inside their huts. But as they get richer, priorities start to shift. They don't want their kids to be sick all year and don't want to wear a mask to go out of the house. China's policy trend is going to continue to shift away from coal. They were a signatory to the Paris climate change agreement."

Oil has been declining for 40 years but remains the world's largest source of energy, Finley said. Even if electric cars become more popular, they won't threaten oil's dominance for at least 20 years.

"You don't buy a new car every year," he said. "It takes time for the stock to move over. It's a slow-moving system."

Renewable sources of energy like wind and solar have been gaining ground.

"Renewables are growing fast, but from a very small base," he said. "Renewables have been punching above their weight."


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.