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Upgrades planned at Flint Hills' refinery in Rosemount

Construction traffic at Flint Hills Resources could pick up significantly if a planned upgrade gets approval.

In a typical year, Flint Hills Resources' Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount spends between $200 and $300 million on maintenance efforts just to keep things running the way they should. Now, the refinery is making plans to spend an additional $400 million on projects meant to increase capacity and reduce emissions.

The projects, which still need a permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and final approval from Flint Hills Resources management, are expected to get under way in 2014.

The Pine Bend refinery has operated in Rosemount since 1955.

The work as currently planned includes replacing less efficient equipment to allow the refinery to operate the affected units closer to their 150,000 barrel daily capacity.

"It's really about reliability and efficiency," said Jake Reints, Flint Hills' director of public affairs. "To be able to meet demand in an environmentally responsible way."

Since 1997 the Pine Bend refinery has reduced emission of pollutants by roughly 70 percent. Total on-site emissions have gone down in 10 of the last 11 years, and emissions per barrel are 50 percent lower than the industry average for large refineries, according to information from Flint Hills. The new projects will specifically help reduce emissions of nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.

"This is a way for us to continue to build on our success reducing emissions," Reints said. "We're really excited about the opportunity to make a significant investment in the health of the refinery."

While there will be a reduction in some emissions, Reints said the project will also result in an increase in emission of some greenhouse gases. That is why the project needs approval from the MPCA.

Assuming it goes forward, the planned improvements are expected to take about five years to complete, and they will result in a lot of extra activity at the Rosemount refinery. The project is expected to create as many as four million hours of new work.

Flint Hills currently has more than 900 full-time employees at the Rosemount refinery, but at a facility the size of the Pine Bend refinery construction projects are nearly constant. The facility has between 400 and 2,000 contract workers on a given day. This project could increase the size of that contract workforce to more than 1,000 per day.

That number is about the same as what the refinery currently sees during its busiest maintenance periods, but it would be constant over the course of the project.

"We expect this to be a pretty busy place for years to come," Reints said.