What costs $3.2 billion and has a $10 million energy bill?

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2008

By Kevin Chiri

It took longer than expected, but today’s edition of L’Observateur gives you an update of the $3.2 billion expansion project going on at Marathon Refinery in Garyville.

I went out there and visited with Plant Manager Rich Bedell and Project Manager Jim Shoriak almost a month ago, expecting to get my story and photos in the paper pretty quickly. But as everyone around here knows, we had a couple of distractions lately called Gustav and Ike.

I guess it just gives women one more reason to exclaim, “Men!!” And in this case, I’ll agree.

But I digress.

I wanted to visit the Marathon construction site to see how they are coming on the big expansion, not to mention the fact I find those kinds of things quite interesting. How many other people would think it was interesting to ride around a 300 acre site with tons of steel and concrete being put together in the perfect way that a refinery will stand there in months? Not sure, but I just think it’s pretty neat to look at what they are doing.

So check out today’s story on page 1A, and the photos on 1B, and hopefully it will be somewhat interesting to you as well.

I’ve known Rich since moving here over four years ago, but the tour and talk with Jim was something a little different since I was able to see the demeanor of a man who is completely responsible for something this big.

I asked him when we first sat down to talk, “so where exactly do you start when you know you are building a $3.2 billion building?”

But here’s the funny thing. Jim is the kind of guy who not only knows exactly what to do, but is as excited as a little kid about doing it. No kidding. As we talked for a while, we got in the car and drove all around the site, and I kept telling him that I could tell he was honestly excited about this thing.

And the truth is that he is.

One question I had that didn’t make the story was about how many women are working there, out of the approximately 3,800 construction workers currently on site. Jim said there are about 10 percent women, and sure enough, the more I looked around for the ladies, the more I actually noticed them.

Even though there is a lot of physical work that, quite honestly, is more suited to men, there are many jobs that are suited just fine for the women as well. Engineers, site guards, and as Jim said, even electricians and welders are fitting the ladies just fine these days.

We were talking about all this as Gustav was brewing out in the Gulf and it got me asking Rich about just how much their electric bill is at Marathon each month, since we were all contemplating the prospect of losing our power if the hurricane came at us (which, of course, it did.)

Get this—Rich said that it isn’t unusual for Marathon to have a $10 million MONTHLY electric bill.

And of course, they are about to greatly increase that with the refinery expansion. Do you think Entergy likes Marathon, or what?

Finally, we were riding past a very large area that Jim explained was the place to keep all the parts.

I mean, just stop for a second, and think about it. If you are building a $3.2 billion refinery, how many actual “parts” are there? No, I mean, really think about every little screw and nail and piece of wood and piece of steel, or whatever! There has to be so much stuff that it is mind-boggling to even consider how anyone can be sure everything gets used properly.

Of course Rich had the good joke of the day when he was saying that he can just imagine next December, when everyone is getting together to watch as the refinery is cranked up and put on line.

Jim and Rich walk over towards that large area where all the supplies were, and there, laying on the ground is a very odd-looking, but small, piece of metal.

“Hey, what do you think this is?” Rich asks Jim.

“Oh never mind,” Jim tells him, “I’m sure it’s not important.”

But you get the point. Every little screw. Every tiny piece of metal. Every belt. Every everything!

Somebody has to keep track of all this stuff. First you have to make sure it gets there, and then you have to be positive it all got used when and where it was needed.

That is the job Jim Shoriak is doing, putting together the big Marathon refinery, and it’s amazing to see how relaxed and comfortable he is about it all.

As for me, I might have a little lost sleep at night thinking about that extra part I found lying in the field.

Kevin Chiri is Publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at kchiri@bellsouth.net