Valero’s $1.4 billion project bucks job trend

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Editor and Publisher

ST. CHARLES — While the economic picture on a national level remains less rosy than new, incoming President-Elect Barack Obama would like, it isn’t slowing down an improving job situation here in the River Region.

Valero of St. Charles is the latest of several major industries along the River Region working on a mega-expansion project, which will continue to add to their work force, that rates among the top in the area already.

Even with unemployment moving higher on a national level, there are excellent jobs being created by a steady industrial expansion in the River Region.

Valero of St. Charles is currently in the midst of a $1.4 billion expansion, highlighted by a new, high-pressure hydro-cracker that will increase production from 185,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 230,000 barrels per day of crude oil.

The project is just one of several being worked on at Valero, as part of the $1.4 billion growth spurt announced by Chairman of the Board Bill Klesse last year.

The hydro-cracker project got underway last year and is now in the foundation process, where 4,000 specially made pilings are being created on site for the mega-unit.

What does this mean to the River Region, as Valero joins the Marathons and the Dows of the area in an expansion mode?

“You will certainly have an economic boost for the entire region simply from the fact that we will have about 2,500 workers coming on site during the course of the project,” Valero General Manager Ralph Phillip said. “Real simply, you’ve got more people buying groceries here, staying at hotels and everything that goes with more people in the area.”

Long term, the hydro-cracker, once fully on line by the end of 2010, will add 35 full-time jobs to Valero, bringing them well over 600 employees on site.

And the jobs being created by Valero, as well as Marathon in their current $3.2 billion expansion, are excellent paying positions with top benefit packages.

“These jobs are about $20 an hour at entry level for the process technology positions,” Human Resources and Public Affairs Director Ron Guillory said. “And they get up to about $40 an hour, along with a great benefits package that adds about 30 percent in the total value.”

The PTEC position only takes a two-year degree from a local community college, and area industries say they expect to continue hiring into the future due to the retirement age of many workers who will be leaving in the coming years.

Phillip sees another plus for Valero, simply in being selected as the site for the major investment from the corporate office.

“As we do these projects, and do them well, the company sees that we can handle this and will consider us for more expansion,” he remarked. “That will add more jobs to the area.”

Phillip did admit that the rapid expansion at many of the local industries has put them in a position of “outpacing the job market,” by needing more workers than were available. For now, he said, they have had to advertise out of the region to draw the workers needed. However the top pay and benefits has been plenty of incentive to handle that problem.

“Young engineers are also a tough commodity to come by right now,” he said. “And good, skilled operators are an issue for us. But it’s our job to find a way to get the workers, and we certainly are managing to do that.”

Michael Kreider is the major projects director at Valero and is the top man overseeing the actual construction of the hydro-cracker.

He was an assistant on the most recent $800 million ultra low-sulphur diesel complex that was part of an environmental upgrade at Valero. Now he is the top man in charge of the current group of projects totaling $1.4 billion.

“Running an operation like this has lots of challenges,” Kreider said. “Mostly, however, it comes down to cost, schedule and quality. But we have actually been helped by the slowdown in construction across the Gulf Coast region. It has made it easier for us to get the workers we need, and the resources.”

The pilings that are being installed for the unit to sit on are specially made by drilling 85 feet into the ground with a round bit that opens a hole big enough to put a rebar cage, then concrete into. Work started last summer on the actual site.

The hydro-cracker is being designed by Fluor Engineering of Canada, with Valero taking those plans to do the construction on site.

Valero bought the current site of their refinery from Orion Refinery in July, 2003 and has spent billions in improvements since then.

They currently make gas, diesel, jet fuel, petroleum coke, 6-oil, sulphur and LPG gas.