Chevron El Segundo Refinery
The Chevron El Segundo Refinery is the largest refinery on the West Coast of the United States. In operation since 1911, the refinery initially produced kerosene for lamps. In fact, the city of El Segundo is named for the Chevron refinery because when it was built, it was the second Standard Oil refinery in California (El Segundo means “the Second” in Spanish). Today, the plant employs more than 1,000 people on its 1,000 acre campus. It refines 270 thousand barrels of crude petroleum products a day, primarily turning them into transportation fuels like gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. Other products that plant produces for commercial use include coke, propane, butane, and chemicals for industrial use. The plant also produces hydrogen for use in its crude oil refining process.
At the beginning of the process, raw crude oil is placed in the distillation towers. In the distillation towers, liquids and gases are separated by their weights and boiling points. Then, the crude oil is run through a process known as hydrotreating that removes excess sulfur and nitrogen by forcing it to bind with the free hydrogen atoms. The recovered sulfur is sold for use in various industrial processes. The excess nitrogen is sold to beverage companies for use in carbonation and can also be converted into ammonia for use as a fertilizer.
After this, the crude oil undergoes a “cracking” process where large molecules in the heavier part of crude oil are converted into smaller molecules that can be used in transportation fuels. Cracking occurs in three ways at the Chevron El Segundo facility. First, it can be cracked through a thermal unit that heats crude oil to extreme temperatures, causing the oil to convert into smaller units. Second, crude oil can be cracked through a fluidized catalytic cracking unit that changes heavy material into gasoline. Finally, crude can go through the hydrocracking unit that aids in the conversion of heavy materials into jet fuel.
Following the cracking process, the molecules in the fuel are rearranged for higher performance and cleaner burning. Then, more than 200 additives are combined with the fuel, and the fuel is held in storage tanks until it is ready to be moved.
The plant has a stated goal to have zero safety incidents, no environmental incidents, and a desire for an injury free factory. However, many chemical and refining plants built or renovated in the 20th century contain asbestos to protect the facilities from high temperatures and caustic chemicals. Unfortunately, this asbestos would ultimately prove extremely hazardous to the health of the employees who worked at these plants.