Large earth movers were working Tuesday to prepare the site of NCRA’s new coker.
The project will cost $555 million and employee as many as 600 people during the height of construction at the McPherson plant. It will be located in the southwest portion of the plant. A portion of the tank farm was removed to make space for the new coker.
A coker converts the heaviest portion of crude, otherwise sold as asphalt, into much more valuable liquid products that can be converted to gasoline and diesel fuel, according to NCRA.
The material that is not converted is petroleum coke, which is similar to coal. It is sometimes burned in power plants to create heat.
The new coker will replace the refinery’s current coker, which was built in 1952. Coker’s have a limited lifetime because of the extreme changes from hot to cool that are required in the coker’s operation.
The new coker will not increase the plant’s capacity, which is about 85,000 barrels per day of crude oil. However, it will allow the plant to process heavier Canadian crudes., Richard Leicht, vice president of refining, said.
The new coker will be accompanied by a more efficient coke-handling facility, be built with added safety features and produce lower emissions.
“It is like a car built in the 1950s or ‘60s,” Leicht said. “You can still operate it on the street, but it doesn’t have newer safety features, such as anti-lock brakes.”
One example of the improved safety features will be the use of computers to control some valves that had once had to be opened and closed manually.
The old coker will operate until the new coker is brought online, which is expected to happen in summer 2015.
Negotiations are ongoing with a contractor for the project. NCRA hopes to have a contracor on site some time in March, Leicht said.
Although long-range plans are to remove the old coker, that project is not of this plan, Leicht said.
The new coker project will require 2 million man hours to complete with an average contracting staff of 384 employees per day with a peak contractor load of 600 employees per day.
NCRA currently employees 658 people — 400 at the McPherson site.
Leicht said he had heard concerns about how the influx of employees will affect the McPherson community.
He said the refinery had a similar influx of employees during the refinery’s last turn around between 2003 and 2005.
Hope Vonborkenhagen, vice president of human resources, said rental housing likely will be affected in McPherson and the surrounding communities. However, some contracted employees choose to live in fifth-wheels and stay at campgrounds.
Vonborkenhagen said other industries, such as hotels and restaurants, also may see an uptick in business.