Ecopetrol plans major upgrades at Barrancabermeja refinery

Feb. 19, 2021
State-owned Ecopetrol SA is investing nearly $780 million during the next 2 years on a series of projects aimed at ensuring operational and environmental sustainability of its 250,000-b/d Barrancabermeja refinery in Santander, Colombia.

State-owned Ecopetrol SA is investing nearly $780 million during the next 2 years on a series of projects aimed at ensuring operational and environmental sustainability of its 250,000-b/d Barrancabermeja refinery in Santander, Colombia.

The proposed $777-million investment will cover works focused on conserving water, reducing emissions, and improving quality of fuel production at the site as part of Ecopetrol’s broader strategy to reduce the refinery’s impacts to air, water, and soil, as well as to guarantee its legal compliance with environmental regulations, the operator said on Feb. 18.

Initiatives already under way as part of the 2021-23 investment program include a technology upgrade of the refinery’s wastewater treatment plant—now 74% completed—as well as an upgrade and expansion of the complex’s mild hydrocracking unit that will enable the refinery to reduce sulfur content of its gasoline production to 30 ppm by 2025 and 10 ppm by 2030.

Alongside a modernization project to improve reliability of the refinery’s water segregation system, the investment program also will include a project at the complex’s sulfur plants to control emissions of sulfur oxides (SOx). Development of basic engineering on the SOx-emissions control project is currently under way, according to the operator.

As a result of rigorous biosafety protocols implemented at Barrancabermeja to maintain continuity of operations amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Ecopetrol confirmed the refinery will continue to execute planned shutdowns in 2021 to carry out works designed to improve reliability and integrity of units, tanks, and boilers.

Ecopetrol said the new investment plan at Barrancabermeja follows the company’s previous $721-million capital expenditures at the site during the last 6 years to ensure the refinery—Colombia’s largest—remains technologically up to date.

In 2020, Ecopetrol invested a total of $181 million at Barrancabermeja on projects to improve reliability ($100 million), environmental legal compliance ($58 million), quality of fuel production ($12 million), and health, safety and environment (HSE, $11 million) at the site, according to the operator’s website.

Currently processing about 225,000-b/d of crude oil, the Barrancabermeja refinery—which celebrated its 99th anniversary on Feb. 18—houses 54 processing units, more than 315 storage tanks, and 32 industrial services.