Refinery on schedule, on budget

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2008


Editor and Publisher

GARYVILLE  — It takes a certain skill to be a contractor to build your own home.

But imagine how that gets a little tougher if you were, say, building an office building for a million dollars.

Then again, how about something like a new school for $5 million to $6 million.

Not big enough?

Imagine you were the person in charge of a $3.2 billion project to build a new refinery which would produce enough fuel for 380,000 cars every day in the United States?

That is the position Jim Shoriak finds himself in these days, as he is the Director of Major Projects for Marathon Refinery, and is overseeing the massive construction job that is ongoing at the current Garyville refinery site.

Shoriak could even go one better than the $3.2 billion project in Garyville, since he is currently in charge of $6 billion worth of projects for Marathon worldwide. But as individual projects go, the $3.2 billion Marathon is spending in St. John Parish is certainly the biggest thing any contractor might ever take on.

Since starting the project in March of 2007, Shoriak recently told L’Observateur that the construction is presently “on schedule and on budget” as they aim at beginning oil production in December of 2009.

Just where does someone like Shoriak start once given the job of building a $3.2 billion refinery?

“We break it down into many, many small projects, and that’s how you get something like this done,’ he said. “We probably have somewhere around 3,000 separate work packages that the different contractors handle. Then we have some great computer help that coordinates things, tells us when it is time to do something new, and keeps track of many aspects of the program.”

The current Marathon refinery produces 245,000 barrels of fuel per day (bpd), but the new refinery—which is essentially what is being built on part of the 340 acre Marathon site—will add 180,000 bpd. That will be the equivalent of 7.5 million gallons of gas, which is enough to fuel 380,000 cars a day.

The construction project is considered one of the largest private sector projects underway in the United States. But Shoriak is quick to point out one big difference in the Marathon project, and others.

“We are the only one that is on schedule and on budget,” he said. “Overall at this stage, things really are going as well as they could be.”

The project began with 22,000 pilings being driven into the ground, which took several months and probably gave a few Marathon employees a headache or two, listening to the constant pounding from across the main road.

But since that point, Shoriak said the only real holdup was when the Mississippi River was running high, and they couldn’t drive piles for a while. There were some delivery problems, including one holdup when a tanker was rammed near New Orleans and spilled oil into the water, but even that was overcome to keep things on schedule.

“Obviously we build days into the construction timetable to account for bad weather, or other problems,” Shoriak remarked. “Saturday is our work, make-up day. But overall I have been told that this is considered the best mega-project going on anywhere in the world.”

The week begins for Shoriak by holding meetings with about 10 key leaders, who then hold long meetings with contractors to pass along the next jobs. But there again, a computer helps the project since it will inform contractors when key pieces of equipment come in, or when particular projects are finished, opening the door for other things to begin.

“We’ve really helped the budget by purchasing a lot of supplies very early, including some things as much as two years ago,” Shoriak explained.

One big piece was a pair of Coker units, which look like a couple of massive Tylenol tablets, at least if you can imagine a Tylenol tablet standing about 30 feet tall when it is lying on its side. Those units, purchased from Japan, cost $12 million for the pair of them.

The tallest structure on site is the 325 foot tall structure that will house the Coker units, being constructed thanks to one of the largest mobile cranes there is.

The only real complaint that has come so far from anywhere, according to Marathon Plant Manager Rich Bedell, is from having to move so much dirt from local pits out to the site.

“We’ve addressed that as much as we can, by trying to keep the road swept up a lot over on River Road where one pit is,” Bedell noted. “But we’ve had to move one million cubic yards of fill, and that is a lot.”

Bedell pointed out how much Marathon has focused on using local contractors, workers and suppliers for the project.

“We spent over $1 billion here in Louisiana so far,” he said. “We have really tried to keep the work local, and I think we’re doing that.”

When finished, the project will provide 200 permanent jobs, bringing the Marathon work force to approximately 850. During construction, there are already over 3,000 workers on site, which will peak later this year at close to 5,000.

Safety has been a number one priority on site, and the job has been excellent from that standpoint, according to Bedell. OSHA’s national standard for an accident rate is 5.0 injuries, but the Marathon job is running at 0.3 so far.

“A 1.0 rating means that if I worked 100 years, I would have one injury in that time, so 0.3 is outstanding,” Bedell said. “We have 90 people who are dedicated to ensuring we have a safe work environment.”

At some point in the near future, Marathon will have to build a bridge that crosses over River Road so they can bring in some of the larger structures for the refinery. Then the bridge will be taken down after the job is finished.

However some turn lanes and acceleration lanes added to Airline Highway, to help with some of the extra traffic there right now, will be built by Marathon and stay.

Even though many of the 200 permanent employees have been hired, not all positions have been filled since there are a number of retirements upcoming at the refinery. Bedell said that anyone still interested in a job there should contact the company and go through normal channels.