Marathon Refinery Tour: May 15, 2019
A group of five University of Cincinnati ERC students and one faculty visited the Marathon Petroleum Refinery in Catlettsburg, KY on May 15, 2019. The students and faculty were from programs in Environmental and Industrial Hygiene, Occupational Safety and Health Engineering, and Occupational Health Nursing. A student in the MSN Family Nurse Practitioner program was also able to join the ERC group. Below are the student’s summaries of their experiences touring the refinery.
H-Coal where Medical Resides
By: Meghan West and Rachel Zeiler
We visited the refinery processes, operations control room, RAD laboratories, and the medical surveillance office. This Catlettsburg refinery has 800 permanent employees, 75 marine employees, and various other contracting workers totaling to ~1500 employees.
During the U.S. oil embargo, Marathon’s Catlettsburg refinery used H-coal liquification to produce fuel from solid coal. Since the discontinuation of this process, Marathon used the space to house its medical surveillance offices. The medical surveillance office consists of occupational health nurses and a nurse practitioner who focus on the overall health and wellness of all the workers. Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s health insurance policy pays 100% of preventative medicine for all employees, including contractors. Marathon also provides a monetary incentive to encourage the employees and their spouses to receive annual physical exams from their health care providers. The preventative medicine that Marathon’s health insurance covers for employees includes vaccinations, colonoscopies, mammograms, and more. The occupational health nurses also provide pulmonary function testing, respiratory fit tests, audio testing for employees in the hearing conservation program, drug and alcohol screenings for federal and company specific requirements, vision testing, and pre-assignment physical examinations. During physical exams, biological samples may be taken to review any non-occupationally related health issues, such as altered kidney or thyroid function. During our tour, the occupational health nurses talked with us about the challenges of working in occupational nursing. The occupational health nurses do not provide primary care for employees or their families. However, despite excellent healthcare coverage, some of the employees do not seek regular primary care. Therefore, the nurse mentioned that the medical team at Marathon may be the only healthcare professional that an employee may visit during his or her career. To compensate for this, the nurses strive to make every interaction with an employee a wellness interaction and use the opportunities to provide health education. It was obvious that these nurses really love their jobs and truly care about the employees of Marathon Petroleum Corporation.
Marine Repair Facility
By: Victoria Stotzer
Initially when I envisioned touring an oil refinery, I thought of manufacturing gasoline and my preconceived notions of dangerous and environmentally harmful processing were forefront in my mind. What we were able to observe was far from my preconceived ideas and left me with a new respect and admiration for the process and the care that the industrial hygiene, safety, and environmental safety teams at Marathon take. While touring the refinery, the safety of the workers was clearly observed. First, all clothing and work attire worn by the employees was provided by the Marathon so that it met the requirements for each specific task. All attire was full coverage with close-toed shoes. Included in the provided attire was ear protection, safety glasses, and any other addition PPE (personal protective equipment). All locations around the refinery that required additional protection were marked with clearly visible signage as well. Second, due to the refining process of crude oil, sulfur gas is produced; therefore, all employees wore a sulfur gas sensor. Marathon has set the limit of their monitors as 10 ppm (parts per million), whereas the limit for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is 50 ppm which further exemplifies the diligence Marathon takes where the health of their employees is concerned. To put the seriousness of the sulfur gas into perspective, one of the reactor tanks that was running, we were told, had 900,000 ppm of sulfur. In the event of an accident there are also breathing apparatus, which appeared to be approximately every 50 feet. It was also observed that there were several chains that had orange plastic bobbers attached. These bobbers held excess chain that in turn hung down in the walkway, further protecting the workers as they go through their day. We were also able to see the main control building, which was built to put the control operators at a secure distance from the main reaction vessels in the instance of an accident so that they may work to contain the incident safely. Marathon Refining thoroughly and diligently works to maintain the health and safety of their employees and it was evident throughout the entire facility.
IH Equipment Lab and Refining Analytical Development Lab
By: Colin McConnell and Yao Addor
After lunch, our tour of the Marathon Catlettsburg Refinery continued. The last site we visited was the Refining Analytical and Development (RAD) Lab. Seeing the RAD Lab really changed our perspective as to what goes on at an oil refinery. Equipped with scientific instruments you would expect to see in a university, the RAD lab performs a panoply of scientific tests to solve a variety of problems for Marathon facilities throughout the country. X-ray diffraction testing is done to identify the chemical composition of corroded materials, scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy are done for elemental analysis, and two labs filled with gas chromatographs analyze the molecular size distribution of hydrocarbon mixtures. The lab is even equipped with a miniature distillation column in order to see how changes in distillation parameters effects the product before being implemented on a larger (and more costly) scale. Perhaps most importantly, the pilot plant is where new materials and ideas are tested. Due to many things in the pilot plant being trade secrets, we will not go into much detail in this blog.
The work done at the lab does not only apply to quality assurance. Tests for compliance with environmental regulations are also performed by the RAD lab. In fact, there are several mobile lab trailers than can be hitched to a truck and taken to any facility in the country that needs to be tested for compliance. Gasoline samples are also tested before being officially certified. This testing is done in the Knock Lab, where gasoline is added to actual engines and evaluated for quality. Overall, the RAD Lab was an extremely versatile and dynamic setting. It was also surprising how integral it is to Marathon’s operations. It is integral, not only to the Catlettsburg refinery, but also to almost all Marathon facilities.