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CHS increases diesel production with latest turnaround

CHS McPherson Refinery

The CHS McPherson Refinery produces 100,000 barrels per day of diesel and gasoline for customers and owners. Making this product requires a facility that runs like a well-oiled machine.

In March 2019, the McPherson refinery began its two-month turnaround to undergo maintenance and upgrades. 

“Turnaround happens about every five years and is a period when the refinery is shut down to do inspections, make capital improvements and identify required maintenance,” says Matt Grieb, refinery operations manager. “The goal is to check the health of the refinery.” 

Refineries across the industry undergo turnarounds and spring is often a prime season due to price margins. Plus, Matt says, having turnaround in the spring ensures the refinery will be running in peak condition by fall. “We do a full-scale shutdown for turnaround, so we need to leave enough time to be running in full operation by fall so our owners have the fuel they need during harvest.” 

Shutdown and Assessment 

The process begins years before the turnaround, with meetings to determine what needs to done. More than 30 units around the refinery determine what maintenance is needed and the life of each piece of equipment is measured against industry standards. “We look at our inspection reports and have industry standards that tell us when a piece of equipment needs to be replaced,” says Matt. That list became about 2,500 work orders scheduled for the 2019 turnaround.

Turnaround starts with getting all the hydrocarbon out of the refinery and into storage tanks. Then equipment is cleaned and some is isolated so it’s safe to work on. “Every job is reviewed by operation staff so they can identify safety and standards,” says Matt.

Workers doing maintenance at the CHS McPherson Refinery

In addition to the 2,500 mechanical work orders already slated for turnaround, the shut-down is a key time to “open up” the refinery to check its health and determine necessary maintenance. “At the beginning, our goal is discovery, accessing damage, looking for problems and determining solutions that make sure equipment is good until the next turnaround and beyond,” says Matt. “We are proactive and have things we know we have to fix, but if we find issues during the discovery phase, we make time to address them during turnaround.”

Upgrading Assets 

In addition to maintenance and inspections, two large-scale projects will be completed as part of the McPherson turnaround. These projects will increase the efficiency of the refinery.

One project will allow the refinery to run cheaper, sour crude from Canada by upgrading the metals in key pieces of equipment, like the fractioner tower. The project will increase the refinery’s bottom line, creating more profits for CHS owners. 

Another project is an upgrade of the unicracker, which will increase diesel production by 10,000 barrels per day. “By improving the diesel conversion of this unit, we’re taking full advantage of the equipment and using the asset to its fullest potential,” says Matt.  

Necessary Investment

To complete this large amount of work from March to May, more than 4,000 contractors are on site, in addition to the refinery’s 600-plus employees. Work is being done around the clock.

“Turnaround is a large, but necessary investment to make sure our equipment is running at its best and to help us meet our owners’ needs,” says Matt. 

As soon as the refinery turnaround is complete, the operations and maintenance crews will focus on a safe startup of all units and commission newly completed projects. Shortly after startup, planning for the next turnaround begins by looking at what went well and where improvements can be made. 

“Every day, we are processing crude oil into gasoline and diesel, and that equipment has a lot of moving parts that need to operate in a peak state so we can safely and efficiently create fuel for our owners,” says Matt.