Total Petrochemicals, Refining USA visited by global leadership

Total’s global leadership visiting the company’s Port Arthur refinery.

Total Petrochemicals and Refining USA received special guests recently when Total S.A. Chairman and CEO Christophe de Margerie, Refining – Petrochemicals Americas Senior Vice President Phillipe Doligez, and Refining & Chemicals President Patrick Pouyanné visited the Port Arthur refinery run by plant manager Nigel Tranter.

Tranter was the receiving host to the global leaders, who toured the facility, inspecting the plant site and meeting with management and staff of the refinery.

“The visit was an opportune visit because Christophe de Margerie, our chief executive, was over here speaking at the CERA conference,” said Tranter. “We thought that it would be good for the morale for the site for the chief executive to come across, and to update him on the actions we’ve got to improve the performance of the site and to give him the opportunity to exchange with our personnel. He came here and did a safety tour. Then he had a short meeting with the refinery management team, where we presented an update on various action plans we have on the refinery. Then he addressed a group of about 100 employees and gave a Q&A session.

“It is a big deal,” Tranter said of the visit. “A company chief executive of the fourth or fifth largest oil companies, a top five major oil company —  for the chief executive of such a company to visit Port Arthur is very exciting.”

De Margerie was in Houston for CERAWeek 2014, the 33rd anniversary for the annual executive conference considered “the energy industry’s preeminent gathering of industry leaders and government officials, offering new ideas, insight, and discussions on major strategic issues facing the global energy industry,” according to the conference website.

Tranter said the group was able to walk the site during the safety tour and observed operations atop the cutting deck of the coker, which began operating in 2011.

“The coker was the last major investment that we did at this site,” Tranter explained. “The investment was made along with many other Gulf Coast refineries to process the heavy fuel stocks that should be coming out of Canada via the Keystone Pipeline in the future. This is what we call a bottom-of-the-barrel conversion unit. The project was called DCP, Deep Conversion Project, so this allows us to convert all of our heavy fuel oil tank material into lighter products, and the final residue is petroleum coke, which is a little bit like coal that is used as fuel in power stations. It allows us to further convert the heavy oil that we were producing before this unit was built.”

“The coker and its reliability are truly impressive and surprisingly very clean,” de Margerie observed. “I am proud of the ingenuity here in Port Arthur.”

Standing about 370 feet high, the coker is the centerpiece of the DCP. Tranter said upcoming projects include plans to build a new steam cracker in either Port Arthur or in Louisiana.

“I know there’s plans to build a new site cracker at either this location (Port Arthur) or a location in Louisiana,” Tranter said. “It’s a new ethane cracker, basically a steam cracker that going to crack ethane to produce ethylene, and then we will use the ethane in existing facilities, and maybe sell a little bit to the market.”

If built in Port Arthur, Tranter confirmed the new cracker would provide local jobs and be a boon to the area economy.

“It will create jobs both for the construction phase and then for the ongoing operation of the facility,” Tranter said. “If that is built here, that will be a big boost for the plant, which is the refinery as well as the steam cracker that is operated by BASF (see page 18 for more). We do operate separately but there are big synergies between the sites. We exchange different (products). There is a synergy with the two sites next to each other. So if this new cracker is built here, then that will build even more synergies, create even more synergies, and should make the site even more competitive. That unit would come on-stream in 2019, which is reasonably quick for an investment of that size. The investment is $4.1 billion, mentioned in the past. It may be even more now.”

Tranter said the Port Arthur and Louisiana plants are currently being considered for similar reasons.

“We have a plant in Louisiana as well, and there would be similar synergies through locating the new facility adjacent to that plant as well,” Tranter explained. “The final choice is down to the value of those synergies and also the economic incentive offered by the local area to invest in that area, a type of economic synergy between Total and Southeast Texas.”

He speculated that the Port Arthur refinery he manages could have an edge over the Louisiana location.

“I would love it to be here, and I think the preference would be to build it here because we have a very similar facility already existing here in the joint venture, the steam cracker we have here, so it would be an extension of an existing facility,” said Tranter, a native of Wales. “This is a great area for Total or anyone to do business. The local support is phenomenal. Everything is here, and the area is so geared up for the industry. It is a pleasure to work here.”