CHS updates

Turnaround time at CHS Laurel Refinery

CHS Laurel Refinery

Apr 09, 2018

The two CHS refineries in McPherson, Kansas and Laurel, Montana turn crude oil into gasoline, diesel and other energy products for our customers and farmer-owners. These refineries are intricate facilities that require a highly specialized team to keep daily operations running correctly and safely.

These refineries also require continuous maintenance, renovations and upgrades. To complete this necessary upkeep most efficiently, parts of the refineries are shut down every few years in what’s called a “turnaround.” 

In April 2018, the CHS Refinery at Laurel embarked on its most recent turnaround, a 50-day period in which about 70 percent of the refinery is shut down so that 1,200 tasks – everything from replacing valves to replacing an entire piping unit – can be completed. “Our goal is to update the refinery so that we can meet and exceed standards and to embark on new projects that will allow us to produce more fuel for our farmer-owners,” says Jim Irwin, turnaround manager at CHS Laurel. 

Planning and Scope
The work began about two years ago, when the entire refinery came together to understand what work should be completed as part of the turnaround. Through workshops and inspections, a list of about 2,000 items was created. Work that helps the refinery meet safety and environmental regulations moves to the top of the list. Other items are then evaluated using a risk assessment matrix. “These guidelines help us prioritize what we have to do,” says Jim. 

In addition to maintenance projects, the 2018 turnaround will consist of two capital projects. The first is a metallurgy upgrade project that will allow the refinery to buy cheaper, more corrosive crude oil, which will equal savings for co-ops and producers. “We’re upgrading all of the equipment that the crude will aggressively corrode to a special grade of stainless steel so we can improve the refining process and still produce quality end products,” says Jim. “It’s a win-win that help our owners and CHS as a whole.” 

The second capital project is replacing various equipment in the Fluid Catalytic Cracker, a refinery gasoline-producing unit. “This project will not only maintain, but also upgrade, our unit, which helps us produce more gasoline for our farmer-owners and their communities,” says Jim. 

Coordinating the Job
Planning the turnaround is a big job and for the first time it has a dedicated owner in Jim. For years, the role of turnaround coordinator rotated between refinery employees, which created inconsistency in process and lack of historical knowledge. “We are very fortunate to have a full-time turnaround manager now, especially one with the refinery knowledge and experience that Jim brings to this new position,” says Pat Kimmet, CHS Laurel refinery manager. 

In addition to ordering thousands of parts and understanding how the refinery oil flow will be impacted, Jim also coordinates the more than 2,000 contractors brought on-site to complete the jobs. At the peak of the turnaround, about 900 extra people will be in the refinery per shift. This influx of people has a significant impact on the town of Laurel, where refinery leadership keeps an open line of communication with law enforcement and city leaders. “The turnaround is definitely an influx to the local economy, but it can also be a nuisance to residents. We understand that and try to do everything we can to mitigate complaints,” says Jim. 

Through to Completion
At the end of the turnaround, starting the refinery up again isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. “A safe and leak-free start up is incredibly important, so we have a number of quality procedures and measures in place to ensure that happens,” says Jim. This includes audits throughout the turnaround as well as a comprehensive tagging system to make sure every connection is secure. 

“We are incredibly proud of the work we do during turnaround,” says Kimmet. “It’s an intense and exhausting time for our teams, but it’s important work that helps our refinery grow stronger to better serve our owners.” 

The refinery is on a staggered turnaround schedule with the next one scheduled for 2020. 


Staying Safe During Turnaround
“Our goal is not only to upgrade our facility, but to do so in the safest way possible,” says CHS Laurel Turnaround Manager Jim Irwin. “There is often a focus on completing the work in a tight deadline, but we can’t sacrifice safety to meet those goals.”
Between long hours, additional equipment and on-site contractors, it could be easy to neglect safety during turnaround, but Jim is making sure safety continues to be top of mind for all employees. To prepare contractors, a training was held in March 2018 to make sure workers understand CHS safety procedures. “Our preparation for both employees and contractors is focused on safety and making sure we never lose sight of it as our top priority,” says Jim. 
Throughout the duration of the turnaround, auditors will continuously monitor the safety and quality of the work being done. 
“At CHS we won’t sacrifice safety to meet an objective, and that’s true more than ever during turnaround,” says Jim. “Making sure our employees and contractors have a safe work environment guides our training and how we’re preparing for turnaround. Safety is key to a successful turnaround.”