Engineering News

Drums Sound Progress In Total Plant Project
January 28, 2009

Total Petrochemicals Inc.'s Port Arthur refinery unveiled some big drums Tuesday.

But they're not the kind that drive a marching band. These are for cracking the sulfur out of crude oil.

The coke drums -- 12 stories tall, 32 feet wide and 404 tons apiece -- are the centerpieces of Total's $2.2 billion project to boost its ability to process high-sulfur crude, a cheaper variant of petroleum that also will allow it to add 3 million tons per year of ultra-low sulfur automotive diesel to its present production.

The Deep Conversion Project was announced in February 2008.

When finished in 2011, Total will have an annual output of 12 million tons of refined product per year.

Total's worldwide president of refining and marketing, Michel Benezit, attended the unveiling ceremony.

"The refinery will spend less in purchasing crude and make more money selling the new products," said Benezit, adding that inflation will be less this year than what was anticipated a few months ago because of the faltering economy.

"We didn't expect the downturn to be so low," said Benezit of the economy, admitting that the year will be difficult for everyone including the oil industry because demand for fuel products also will be down.

About 200 invited guests from around Southeast Texas also came to see the four new arrivals.

Coke refers to the sulfur left over after heavy crude oil is refined. Heavy, or high sulfur, crude is cheaper than the light, sweet crude that most refineries are capable of processing.

The company launched the project because of the belief that light crude would eventually vanish, leaving the heavier crude as the only thing left to produce petrochemicals.

Refineries equipped with coke drums have greater flexibility in securing supplies and improve refining margins, which is the difference between cost of the crude and the price of its refined products.

Margin is where a refinery makes its profits after subtracting all of its production costs.

The project also will minimize the refinery's energy consumption, or "environmental footprint," said Benezit.

It will take years for the refinery to make up its investment, said refinery manager Darrell Jacob, but Total chose the Port Arthur location because they could afford the investment there rather than their other 11 European locations. The location also was chosen because of the company's confidence in the people and their safety record.

The project includes a 50,000-barrel per day coker, a desulfurization unit, a vacuum distillation unit and other related units. At peak, the project will employ 2,200 construction workers.

Total is one of the world's major oil and gas groups, with activities in more than 130 counties. In the United States, the company has 7,500 employees in 18 operating subsidiaries with 74 sites in 29 states.

Source: The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas

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