Great Lakes, Shell Chemical Build Enduring Partnership in Terminaling

Nov. 1, 2001
AS BULK logistics partnerships go, few have endured as long as the one between Great Lakes Terminal & Transport Corporation and Shell Chemical Company.

AS BULK logistics partnerships go, few have endured as long as the one between Great Lakes Terminal & Transport Corporation and Shell Chemical Company. Spanning eight decades, the partnership is alive and well at storage terminals in Argo, Illinois, and Industry, Pennsylvania.

This is a somewhat unusual partnership in that it combines transportation and bulk storage operations. In addition to the terminals, Great Lakes runs 20 tractors and 40 tank trailers. The storage facilities and most of the truck fleet are dedicated to Shell Chemical.

“We are dedicated to serving Shell and its customers,” says Steven Dehmlow, president and chief executive officer of Great Lakes Terminal & Transport. “By taking care of Shell's customers, we take care of Shell. The culture here is that we live, eat, and breathe Shell.

“We look at every dime we spend for Shell as coming out of our own pockets. We stretch it as far as we can. We work with Shell personnel as though we are company employees. We let them know when we see opportunities for new business.”

First Steps

The foundation for this relationship was laid in 1933 when Dehmlow's grandfather and a partner set up shop as a Shell Oil Co heating oil jobber. By 1940, Shell was asking if they would distribute solvents in the Chicago, Illinois, area.

The relationship grew, and construction of the Argo terminal started in 1947. The Industry storage facility was added in 1952. Great Lakes operates both facilities under contract with Shell, and all operations are dedicated to Shell products and serving Shell customers.

The chemical manufacturer has additional contract terminals in other parts of the United States, but none are as large as the Great Lakes operation, according to Dehmlow. Shell also has its own chemical storage facilities, including major ones in California, New Jersey, and Texas.

Over the years, Great Lakes has diversified the terminaling and transportation operation to include custom blending services. Ethanol denaturing was done at the Great Lakes facilities for many years. That was followed by solvent blending.

Diversified Growth

Diversification opportunities also have taken the Dehmlow family well beyond the confines of the terminaling operation. Through the GLS Corporation umbrella, the family-owned enterprise has developed a number of growth opportunities.

GLS Thermo-Plastics Elastomers Division has been producing thermo-plastic elastomer compounds since 1984. The company compounds soft, rubbery thermo plastics for a wide range of consumer applications and was started through another relationship with Shell. GLS has a plant in McHenry, Illinois, and sales offices in Singapore and the Netherlands.

Composites One is a subsidiary company that distributes raw materials for fiberglass-reinforced plastics, such as boats and heavy-duty truck components like hoods and cabs. This is a joint venture between GLS and Cook Composites and Polymers.

The Shell partnership remains a central focus, though. “We believe that Shell is going to be in solvents and related chemicals for a long time to come,” Dehmlow says. “It's a good fit with their refining business. Our objective is to continue working with Shell and as safely and productively as possible.”

Great Lakes Terminal & Transport has notched up an impressive record in the areas of safety and productivity. The Argo and Industry terminals have never recorded an accidental release of product, and the last spill for the tank fleet operation was in 1985.

The fleet operation has qualified as one of Shell Chemical's 4-Star Carriers in each of the eight years that the award has been offered. Great Lakes Terminal & Transport is the only eight-time winner.

The Argo and Industry terminals each earned Shell's Terminal of the Year award three times. The Argo facility received its last award in 1997 and Industry in 1998. The program was discontinued the following year. Great Lakes was in competition with at least a dozen independent terminals across the United States.

In addition to building an outstanding safety record, Great Lakes managers have worked hard to develop an efficient, high-quality operation. The company obtained ISO 9002 certification in 1997. The quality efforts have been recognized by a number of Shell's customers, including S C Johnson, which presented the Argo terminal with its Quality Supplier Award in 2000.

Dedicated Management

Dehmlow gives credit for the safety and quality achievements to the management team in place at the terminals and transport operation. Nick Tepavich is the plant manager of the Argo terminal, and Tom Gimbus runs the Industry facility. David Strein is vice-president and general manager of the fleet operation.

With a total capacity of approximately 12 million gallons, the Argo terminal supplies hydrocarbon and oxygenated solvent products to Shell customers throughout the upper Midwest. The Industry storage facility has roughly the same capacity and serves Shell customers in Ohio, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania.

The Argo terminal is especially important to Shell because it can be supplied by barge. “The sole justification for the existence of this facility lies in freight economics,” Tepavich explains. “A significant amount of product is barged here from Shell plants along the Gulf Coast. However, we also receive rail shipments, particularly out of Canada during the winter.”

Scores of barges — in capacities ranging from 400,000 to 600,000 gallons — are handled through the Argo terminal. The facility also loads barges with product arriving by railcar from Canada. The outbound barges are transported to other US locations.

Barge access to the Argo terminal comes via the Chicago Sanitary and Canal. Barges reach the canal after traveling on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. With the exception of a limited number of barge movements, most outbound shipments are by truck or rail.

Shell Scheduling

Both inbound and outbound shipments are scheduled by Shell Chemical through its transportation management center in Houston, Texas. Great Lakes Terminal & Transport is directly tied into the Shell logistics system with SAP software.

The Argo terminal handles hundreds of millions of pounds of product. Barges account for approximately half of the volume, with rail moving most of the balance. Trucks bring in less than 10% of the total.

Extensive capabilities were installed over the years to make the product transfer process as efficient and safe as possible. Each product has its own receiving and loading lines and pump. There is no manifolding or product sharing of any line.

At the marine dock, two barges at a time can be accommodated, and product transfer usually takes 10 to 12 hours. Containment booms are readily accessible in the event of a product spill, and sufficient equipment is on hand to contain up to two full barges of product.

Rail tankcars are handled on a half mile of in-plant track. One section of track is equipped for tankcar heating, and steam for heating is supplied by a 150-horsepower boiler, as well as from an adjacent plant source. Eight tankcar loading stations are available and have the ability to handle the largest of tankcars.

Product offloaded from barges and tankcars is analyzed by the Argo terminal laboratory before any inbound shipment is transferred to the terminal's 32 storage tanks. Outbound shipments also are analyzed before loading.

Close Scrutiny

Truck and rail are the chief means of outbound shipments. Thirty to 50 tank trailers are loaded each day. Great Lakes Terminal & Transport uses its own tanker rigs to haul about 80% of the prepaid outbound shipments.

Tanker rigs always have received close scrutiny, and security and control are even stricter in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Rigs must be cleared through the front gate, which is now locked at all times. Incoming drivers check in at the main office, and the rig is weighed. It will be weighed again after being loaded.

Drivers are instructed to remain near their units during the weigh-in, loading, and weigh-out process. They are expected to have paperwork, such as bills of lading and special instructions, to verify that the information is correct.

Great Lakes instructs drivers to have calibration charts available. Terminal workers also verify that tank trailers are clean and dry and that all valves are closed and protected by dust caps. Trailers also are checked to ensure that all of the federally required tests and inspections are up to date.

“Calibration charts are of utmost importance because we don't meter all of the products at this facility,” Tepavich says. “If a calibration chart isn't available, we will not exceed the maximum fill volume listed on the tank manufacturer's specification plate.”

Drivers are required to stay with the rig during loading in most cases, but are prohibited for safety reasons from being on the loading rack. The tractor engine must be shut off and the brakes set.

Preloaded Shipments

Argo terminal workers do preload some trailers that are staged for transport at a later time. In general, these are trailers belonging to the Great Lakes fleet. Preloaded trailers are parked in an area with containment.

Once loading is complete and the shipment is ready to be dispatched, the driver moves the rig to the main office to be weighed. The loader attaches tamper-proof seals to the domelids and valves for each compartment.

Eleven truck loading racks are available at the terminal, and up to six tank trailers can be loaded simultaneously. Oilco loading arms predominate at the truck and rail loading racks, but Great Lakes has begun purchasing Emco Wheaton and OPW Engineered Systems loading arm hardware. Barco and Chicksan swing joints are used in the loading arms.

“We get good life out of these products,” Tepavich says. “We don't have to redo bearings very often, just when a seal fails. We may rebuild two or three a year at most. We match seals to the types of products handled through the loading arm. For instance, Viton seals are specified for aromatics, and buna seals are used with alcohols.”

Product is transferred using stainless steel Blackmer pumps powered by 10-hp explosion-proof electric motors from US Electric Motors. Wire-wound Wilcox hoses with PT Coupling fittings are used for all product transfer activities.

Part of the quality control process includes passing product through a five-micron filter at the loading racks. Filtration also includes moisture-absorbing media.

Some closed-loop loading of rail tankcars is done for products such as glycol. “The primary objective is to keep out moisture,” Tepavich says. “Glycol is very hygroscopic.”

Nitrogen blankets also are called for in some instances. However, the primary use for nitrogen at the terminal is to purge loading and unloading lines. This is one of the best ways to prevent frozen lines during the cold winter months.

Eighty different products and blends are handled through the loading racks and include alcohols, ketones, aliphatics, aromatics, glycols, and glycol ether. They are stored in a wide variety of aboveground tanks, both insulated and noninsulated. In addition to 32 tanks just for storage, another 11 are dedicated to mixing/blending operations.

Carbon Steel Tanks

Carbon steel storage tanks predominate and were designed to API 650 requirements. Several stainless steel tanks are used in the blending operation. Insulated tanks have two inches of fiberglass with a six-pound density.

Most of the tanks are zinc lined and equipped with filters to assure product integrity. The lining has performed well, according to Tepavich, and has lasted 30 years in some of the tanks.

Seven of the storage tanks have floating roofs, and Tepavich points out that overflow vents are not specified with these tanks. “We see this type of vent as an environmental risk,” he says. “We don't want accidental solvent releases from our tanks. Cleanup would cost more than any damage that might occur to the floating roof due to product expansion.”

As part of an overall maintenance program at the Argo terminal, storage tanks are constantly monitored to ensure that they are in top condition. They are inspected internally at five-year intervals or anytime they are out of service in the process of switching from one product to another.

Storage tanks are repainted as needed, and the last major repainting campaign was completed in 1994. Tepavich specified Sherwin Williams coating materials for the project. “They make a good product, and we believe it will last 10 to 12 years,” he says.

After each tank was sandblasted, workers sprayed on an epoxy surface-tolerant primer. “This is the most important part of the coating system on a tank exterior,” Tepavich says. “We believe it's important to buy the best available primer product.”

Next came the main epoxy paint coating, followed by a urethane finishing coat to protect against the weather and ultraviolet rays. Total dry coating thickness is 12 to 13 mils.

Every facet of the terminal operation right down to tank painting campaigns is designed to provide Shell Chemical with the best possible service. After all, Great Lakes Terminal & Transport plans to be a Shell partner for many decades to come.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.