R-Squared Energy Blog

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Bloggers Go to Billings

I should have Part 2 of the series of answering readers’ questions posted by tomorrow, but until then I was just sent the following link, which was of great personal interest to me:

A Green Refinery?

The gist is that last year the American Petroleum Institute flew a group of bloggers up to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Montana where I used to work to give them a perspective of life in a refinery. A video diary of the trip was recently posted to the link above. An excerpt from the link:

The refinery has twice been awarded EnergyStar designation by the EPA for its comparatively efficient production processes. It also established a Citizen’s Advisory Council to maintain an open dialogue between the community and ConocoPhillips. This council has been instrumental in tracking the plant’s social, economic, and environmental performance.

It was kind of funny to see my old managers there lecturing on how a refinery works, and what makes the Billings Refinery unique. (Yes, Tim Seidel looks unusually young to be a manager in a refinery, but he is very talented).

Here were some of the essays that bloggers wrote following the trip:

How Much at What Pressure and Temperature?

Semi-coherent and random thoughts about the Billings trip

Refined Refinery? ConocoPhillips in Billings, MT

I do have one comment on some of the write-ups I have seen. There seems to be some misinformation that the refinery was either built for, or relies upon the Alberta tar sands for feedstock. First, that certainly wasn’t why the refinery was built, as it was there long before tar sands became an industry. Second, unless things have changed in the 2.5 years since I left, the refinery actually utilizes little or no syncrude from tar sands. It is a refinery designed for heavy, sour oil, and as such is not ideal for the syncrude coming out of the tar sands.

Anyway, just thought this might be of some interest. More answers to readers’ questions tomorrow.


August 3, 2009 - Posted by | American Petroleum Institute, api, Billings, ConocoPhillips, oil refineries, refining


  1. I wish the energy industry would do more of this. We let others, particularly the environmental community, tell our story instead of us. I think Mike Wirkowski was confusing Canadian heavy sour crude with oil sands. Bilings isn't designed for oil sands, not nearly enough coker or bottoms upgrade capacity. Mike is manager at Humber Refinery now.

    Comment by KingofKaty | August 3, 2009

  2. Note to Clee: I was wrong in stating that carmakers were bringing 60 mpg cars to market/. They are bringcing cars to market that get infinite mpgs.See this:Nissan Unveils the LEAF Production Designed specifically for a lithium-ion battery-powered chassis, Nissan LEAF is a medium-size hatchback that seats five adults and has a range of more than 160km (100 miles) on one full charge, based on an urban driving cycle (US LA4[1]). Nissan LEAF is slated for launch in late 2010 in Japan, the United States, and Europe.A 24 kWh pack of laminated lithium-ion batteries from Nissan JV AESC delivers output of more than 90kW to power a synchronous AC motor delivering 80 kW (107 hp) of power and torque of 280 N·m (207 lb-ft). Top speed is 140 km/h (90 mph)The Oil Era is ending, and with a whimper, not a bang.

    Comment by Benny "Bom, No Doom" Cole | August 3, 2009

  3. I take it that this plant is really efficient to make up for the horrid smelling plant in Laurel.

    Comment by Anonymous | August 3, 2009

  4. A group in West Lafayette,IN has been touting a plant based fuel they call Swiftfuel that is intended to replace 100LL avgas. Early reports indicated it to be cellulose based but a talk with P.J.Catania at Oshkosh last week revealed that it is instead based on sugar, as from sorghum, and uses a bacterial process to convert the sugar to acetone and a vapor phase transformation to creat a straigt hydrocarbon consisting of essentially two compounds. The result is heavier than avgas with a slightly lower energy content per pound and good antiknock characteristics. They say that ethanol facilities can be used with changes to the front end and back end of the plant. They have identified a modest sized fuel market that is one of the last to use TEL and are looking for someone to do the manufacturing. If practical and cost effective (big "ifs") it could be desirable. Some information can be gleaned from website http://www.swiftenterprises.comYour comments would be welcome.

    Comment by Anonymous | August 4, 2009

  5. As much as I would like to see new coal plants in Montana replace refineries as a result of EEV (elsewhere emission vehicles). I predict that EEV manufactures will produce more press releases than EEVs. The number of EEV purchased will be even smaller. It is called bait and switch.It never ceases to amaze me what people but when just going in to look. One owner of a red Vet convertible could not even read the contract because he left behind his reading glasses. Poor guy does not remember what he went out for.A friend has a stoke. Prestroke this man was so frugal buying used cars that he only drove cars that the paint has worn off. One Saturday he heads to the hardware store to buy a bolt for his lawnmower. Comes home with the biggest 4wd PU I have ever seen….without talking to his wife. I see it now. Berkley Bob (a real person) rides his bike to check out a new EEV. He comes back with a 60' motor home to drive to Las Vegas earth day meetings.

    Comment by Kit P | August 4, 2009

  6. Thanks for the links, Robert. Indeed looking at EIA Company Level Imports I see that the second biggest shipment to Billings from Canada was 40.1 API/0.6% sulfur.

    Comment by The Dude | August 4, 2009

  7. I see that the second biggest shipment to Billings from Canada was 40.1 API/0.6% sulfurI didn't even know that kind of data was publicly available. Note that for that specific time period – May 2009 – less than 20% was the light, low sulfur crude. I would like to see how that has trended over the past year. We were definitely not running 20% light when I was there (but light/heavy differentials were huge at that time). I remember we tested some of the syncrude, but we were not running it through the refinery.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 4, 2009

  8. Percentages of Total Imported Crude Oil by API Gravity gives a broad assessment of what's coming in. I built up some of the historical EIA .xls for the PNW to get an idea of what was entering our part of PADD 5 – quite a bit of work, and it didn't help that some Dubya era flunky decided to format the '01/'02 sheets differently than the rest…I also cooked up a graph of the API of annual US imports: http://img39.imageshack.us/img39/5831/usimportsbyapi.png Pretty much what you'd expect – more <=25.0º as time goes by; but a bit of an uptick in lighter stuff as well.

    Comment by The Dude | August 4, 2009

  9. I also cooked up a graph of the API of annual US imports:Thanks for that. Very cool graph. I will save that one.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 6, 2009

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