Planning payoff

Nov. 1, 2006
SEVERAL years ago, Flint Hills Resources LP managers took one look at federal proposals for handling ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) and set to work planning how the company would respond

SEVERAL years ago, Flint Hills Resources LP managers took one look at federal proposals for handling ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) and set to work planning how the company would respond.

Today, with the Environmental Protection Agency mandates in force, Flint Hills' refined products division is pumping ULSD, jet fuel, and reformulated gasoline through a pipeline in Texas to terminals where they are loaded into tank trailers for distribution. A second pipeline supplies low-sulfur fuels to the terminals.

“We were planning for four or five years before the rule went into effect,” says Lance Baker, operations supervisor for Texas refined products terminals. “As soon as federal officials started talking about it, we put a development team in place.”

One example of the company's efforts is its operation in Central Texas, where a 449,000-barrel, 11-product storage and terminaling facility in Austin began distributing ULSD in the second quarter of 2006, as well as continuing to distribute all grades of gasoline, including low-sulfur products. The company had introduced low-sulfur gasoline in the Central Texas area in 2000, well ahead of federal requirements for that product.

“Our efforts in the Texas market, as in the others we serve in the Midwest, continue to focus on supplying superior products to our many customers,” says Kim Penner, senior vice-president for Flint Hills Resources. “We introduced low-sulfur gasoline in the Central Texas market early, and we've taken steps to ensure that those markets have a ready supply of low sulfur fuels today.”

To take care that the product meets the 15 parts per million (ppm) sulfur maximum, Flint Hills tests samples taken from downstream of the storage tanks and at the truck loading rack and forwards the samples to its oversight center in Fort Worth.

Applying flexibility

Although the US Department of Energy has speculated that ULSD distribution could reduce the nation's distribution system flexibility because of testing requirements that might result in a downgraded product, Flint Hills planners looked at ways to meet the problem head on and ameliorate those concerns. The company tests fuel specs at its new $9-million, 21,000-square-foot laboratory at its Corpus Christi refinery. This new facility, replacing one that was built in the 1950s, houses equipment and technology critical for ensuring refined product compliance and quality standards, as well as providing environmental quality testing.

In keeping with the plans to meet ULSD and low sulfur standards at its terminals, Flint Hills recently opened a new 107,000-barrel location in Bastrop County for segregating jet fuel, a high-sulfur-content product. By adding the new dedicated location, the company can continue to supply local jet fuel to customers without fear of contaminating its ULSD and low sulfur fuel supply in San Antonio, Austin, and Waco.

The pipelines and terminals are an extension of Flint Hills' South Texas refining complex in Corpus Christi that has a refining capacity of 300,000 barrels per day and produces a variety of petroleum products that are shipped to Austin, San Antonio, Bastrop, Waco, and the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In addition to its updated pipeline and terminal projects for handling ULSD and low sulfur fuels efficiently, the company has spent more than $1 billion on refinery enhancements, some of which have resulted in improved environmental performance at the South Texas refinery.

Flint Hills Resources also is looking at expansion opportunities in the Dallas and Austin areas. Projects under review include expansions to existing terminals, such as one in Waco, as well as new terminals similar to the one in Bastrop.

In addition to its Texas locations, Flint Hills owns and operates storage and terminaling facilities in the Midwest at Rosemount, Minnesota; Junction City, Milwaukee, Madison, and Waupun, Wisconsin; and Bettendorf, Iowa; and Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. The company serves a variety of customers, including fuel jobbers, gasoline retailers, wholesale distributors, commercial fleets, and airlines. In addition to the Texas refinery, the company operates a refinery in Minnesota and ships product via company-owned and common-carrier pipelines throughout the upper Midwest. The company's Alaska interests include a 220,000-barrel-per-day refinery in North Pole, which was acquired in 2004.

Flint Hills was ahead of the curve this spring as a fuel supplier to begin using ethanol as an oxygenate in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Houston are under federal mandates for air quality, and the company planned for and systematically switched over to ethanol for blending with little disruption.

Area growth

Baker points out that population growth along the Interstate 35 corridor served by the Corpus Christi refinery prompted the Texas projects such as broadening services in Waco. “We are enlarging our truck-loading capabilities by more than 25% and fuel storage capacity for gasoline by 40% there,” says Baker. “The storage project is complete and the rack expansion is expected to be completed in early 2007.”

South of Waco in Austin, the 58-acre terminal for gasoline and ULSD was constructed in 1989 and has six bays with five loading arms per bay with the capability to fill a tank trailer at 600 gallons per minute per loading arm. The configuration enables the procedure to be completed in 20-30 minutes. Drivers typically are in and out of the terminal in 30 minutes to an hour. The facility serves 20-25 carriers and handles about 350 trucks per day, on average.

“We are constantly updating and evaluating equipment to improve our efficiency,” says Kevin Robinson, Austin and Bastrop terminals manager.

At the two-bay terminal near Bastrop dedicated to jet fuel, trucks are loaded at about 600 gallons per minute in about 25 minutes. A typical day will see about 30 trucks served at the facility, which occupies a 20-acre site.

Terminal equipment

Flint Hills specifies Smith Meter AccuLoad measurement equipment from FMC Technologies for its terminals where the program can run several loading arms simultaneously and includes preset loading, unloading, and batching capability. Racks typically have loading arms supplied by OPW Engineered Systems and Liquip International Pty, pumps from Goulds Pumps and Ingersoll-Rand Co, and overfill protection systems from Scully Signal Co. For additives, Flint Hills uses injectors from Additives Systems Inc (ASI) and Gate City, part of Enraf Fluid Technology.

For its air emissions control, Flint Hills specifies John Zink Co LLC vapor recovery and combustion units to capture volatile organic compounds.

Computerized management systems include a Maximo program from MRO Software Inc that coordinates work orders, maintenance, and compliance requirements. Data is gathered from the AccuLoad system and fed into the program for billing and other administrative functions. Bills of lading are recorded in the system, but printed copies also are kept on file.

Driver training

Flint Hills puts safety and security at the top of its priority list. That includes requiring drivers to establish identification and undergo a Flint Hills training program before they are granted access cards for the automated terminal gates and loading equipment. All terminals are fenced and gated with security surveillance.

The training period begins after Flint Hills receives a letter from the carrier authorizing the driver. Instruction includes a classroom session that typically takes about three hours to complete and covers terminal operations, security, and safety. A test is given at the end of the session, and Flint Hills requires at least 80% correct responses. Once drivers pass the test, they are given a tour of the terminal to familiarize them with the equipment and layout. Carrier driver trainers conduct loading rack training under the supervision of terminal personnel. Drivers are required to repeat a written exam annually.

In addition to driver training, Flint Hills provides information about the program to carrier dispatchers for their review. “We also encourage carriers to send dispatchers and other operation personnel to the training session,” says Robinson.

The Flint Hills relationship with carriers and their drivers has paid off with providing efficient loading processes that get drivers in and out of the terminal with as little wait time as possible. Advanced planning, an in-depth training program, and the latest technology places the company's Texas facilities in a strong position to meet the ULSD handling demands, as well as supplying petroleum products for the growth occurring in Central Texas.

About the Author

Mary Davis