USW seeks phaseout of HF alkylation units

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Aug. 31 -- The United Steelworkers Union has called for a nationwide phaseout of hydrogen fluoride alkylation units at refineries, saying solid-state catalysts offer promise as a safer alternative although this method is only used at the pilot plant stage.

Hydrogen fluoride is an acid used as a catalyst in alkylation units. The other main commercially used alternative for a catalyst is sulfuric acid. Both are hazardous chemicals. A third alternative is a modified HF process although only a handful of refineries are using it, industry spokespeople said.

“We intend to pursue every avenue till we have safer units that don’t endanger our refinery workers or the communities surrounding these facilities,” USB Vice-Pres. Gary Beevers said in an Aug. 31 news release.

The union said it is scheduling a mid-September meeting in Corpus Christi, Tex., between the local and international union representatives, the Sierra Club, and Citizens for Environmental Justice.

USW said sulfuric acid has less potential to form a deadly vapor plume in the case of an accidental release. The union noted three HF release incidents in 5 months.

HF releases
HF was released from the alkylation unit at Sunoco Inc.’s 330,000-b/d refinery in Philadelphia on Mar. 11, HF was released during a fire at Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s 156,800-b/d Corpus Christi, Tex., refinery on July 19, and the chemical also was released Aug. 6 from the alkylation unit at the ExxonMobil Corp. refinery in Joliet, Ill.

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has sent an investigative team to ExxonMobil’s 240,000-b/d Joliet refinery (OGJ, Aug. 17, 2009, Newsletter).

At that time, CSB Chairman John S. Bresland said, “We are concerned about the three apparent releases of hydrogen fluoride from refinery alkylation units in Pennsylvania, Texas, and now Illinois that have been reported since March 2009. Because of its high toxicity, any loss of primary containment for hydrogen fluoride is a serious matter,” he said.

CSB has investigators examining the HF releases at Citgo’s Corpus Christi plant.

NPRA, API responds
National Petrochemical & Refiners Association Pres. Charles T. Drevna said HF is as safe as any other catalyst, and is a critical component in refinery operations.

“It appears to us that USW may be a victim of bad analysis provided by environmental activists, who for years have unsuccessfully promoted the concept of chemical substitution,” Drevna said. “You can’t simply switch hydrofluoric acid for something else. Such a policy position could actually threaten the very jobs USW is seeking to protect.”

American Petroleum Institute spokesman Ron Chittim said he has seen estimates that it could cost a refinery $50-125 million to switch from an HF unit to a modified HF unit.

Chittim said the HF process is so different from the sulfuric acid process that a refinery wanting to switch to sulfuric acid would have to scrap its existing HF unit and build a sulfuric acid unit.

“You are talking about different types of equipment,” Chittim said. “They both have a role in refining. I don’t think it’s right to pick winners and losers. Both methods have their pros and cons.”

USW withdrew from API talks
Drevna said, “It’s no coincidence that USW is trying to seize an issue to make hay of in the wake of walking away from safety discussions, and this is nothing more than a manufactured opportunity to lobby through the press.”

He referred to the USW withdrawing from talks on refinery standards with the API and the oil industry.

The talks were in response to recommendations from the CSB following the deadly Mar. 23, 2005, explosion at BP America Inc.’s Texas City, Tex., refinery (OGJ, Sept. 8, 2008, p. 20).

USW and API were working to develop two American National Standards Institute standards for process safety performance indicators and fatigue. The two groups had worked together for more than a year on the upcoming standards, which API spokesmen say will be completed without USW participation.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

Related Articles

ExxonMobil forecasts 35% higher world energy demand by 2040

12/15/2014 A significantly bigger global middle class, expanded emerging economies, and 2 billion more people will contribute to 35% higher world energy deman...

ExxonMobil forecasts 35% higher world energy demand by 2040

12/10/2014 A significantly bigger global middle class, expanded emerging economies, and 2 billion more people will contribute to 35% higher world energy deman...

Firms' third-quarter earnings climbed amid lower crude oil prices

12/08/2014 A sample of 58 oil and gas producers and refiners based in the US recorded a combined 38% jump in profits for this year's third quarter compared wi...

Chapman to succeed Pryor as ExxonMobil Chemical president

11/24/2014 Neil A. Chapman is expected to assume the roles of president of ExxonMobil Chemical Co. and vice-president of ExxonMobil Corp. following the retire...

Induced seismicity research effort identifies information gaps

11/10/2014 A federally coordinated effort to determine whether oil and gas activities are related to growing reports of induced seismic activity has identifie...

ExxonMobil, Linn to make second asset exchange this year

10/06/2014 ExxonMobil Corp. has agreed to trade interest in 500 net acres from South Belridge field near Bakersfield, Calif., to Linn Energy LLC, Houston, in ...

ExxonMobil 'winds down' Arctic well, obeys sanctions

09/29/2014 ExxonMobil Corp. released a statement that it is complying with all US sanctions on Russia after news reports that the operator had halted operatio...

AAPG ICE: ExxonMobil outlines international approach to unconventional development

09/22/2014 Global energy demand is expected to increase 35% to 2040, translating to 120 billion boe/year, or nearly 350 million boe/d, stated Rocky Becker, vi...

ExxonMobil ‘winding down’ Arctic well, complying with US, EU sanctions on Russia

09/19/2014 ExxonMobil Corp. released a statement that the company is complying with all US sanctions on Russia after news reports that the operator had halted...

White Papers

AVEVA NET Accesses and Manages the Digital Asset

Global demand for new process plants, power plants and infrastructure is increasing steadily with the ...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Approach for the Digital Asset

To meet the requirements for leaner project execution and more efficient operations while transferring...
Sponsored by

Diversification - the technology aspects

In tough times, businesses seek to diversify into adjacent markets or to apply their skills and resour...
Sponsored by

Engineering & Design for Lean Construction

Modern marketing rhetoric claims that, in order to cut out expensive costs and reduce risks during the...
Sponsored by

Object Lessons - Why control of engineering design at the object level is essential for efficient project execution

Whatever the task, there is usually only one way to do it right and many more to do it wrong. In the c...
Sponsored by

Plant Design for Lean Construction - at your fingertips

One area which can provide improvements to the adoption of Lean principles is the application of mobil...
Sponsored by

How to Keep Your Mud System Vibrator Hose from Getting Hammered to Death

To prevent the vibrating hoses on your oilfield mud circulation systems from failing, you must examine...
Sponsored by

Duty of Care

Good corporate social responsibility means implementing effective workplace health and safety measures...
Sponsored by

Available Webcasts


On Demand

Optimizing your asset management practices to mitigate the effects of a down market

Thu, Dec 11, 2014

The oil and gas market is in constant flux, and as the price of BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent) goes down it is increasingly important to optimize your asset management strategy to stay afloat.  Attend this webinar to learn how developing a solid asset management plan can help your company mitigate costs in any market.

register:WEBCAST


Parylene Conformal Coatings for the Oil & Gas Industry

Thu, Nov 20, 2014

In this concise 30-minute webinar, participants have an opportunity to learn more about how Parylene coatings are applied, their features, and the value they add to devices and components.

register:WEBCAST


Utilizing Predictive Analytics to Optimize Productivity in Oil & Gas Operations

Tue, Nov 18, 2014

Join IBM on Tuesday, November 18 @ 1pm CST to explore how Predictive Analytics can help your organization maximize productivity, operational performance & associated processes to drive enterprise wide productivity and profitability.

register:WEBCAST


US HYDROCARBON EXPORTS Part 3 — LNG

Fri, Nov 14, 2014

US LNG Exports, the third in a trilogy of webcasts focusing on the broad topic of US Hydrocarbon Exports.

A discussion of the problems and potential for the export of US-produced liquefied natural gas.

These and other topics will be discussed, with the latest thoughts on U.S. LNG export policy.

register:WEBCAST


Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected