The refinery that is known to be the fourth largest in America is located within Whiting, Indiana. It is owned and operated by BP, and has the ability to produce 410,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Whiting's refinery got it's start after a visit from a Standard Oil employee named Theodore M. Towle in 1889. Standard Oil was the company founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1870 that became so huge the government forced it to break into several smaller companies by passing anti trust and monopoly laws in 1911. Towle authorized the purchase 235 acres for a new refinery to be built. The plant began production of petroleum products by 1890.
Members of the Standard Oil family began working on a better way to produce gasoline in 1909, as the automobile began to grow in popularity. A chemist at the Whiting facility named Dr. Robert E. Humphreys sought out a more reliable method of refining and processing oil, and introduced a piece of equipment that would create a very high temperature and apply a great deal of pressure in order to deliver a smoother type of fuel. His invention was a success and became one of the biggest advancements in the industry. Today thermal cracking processor unit is still a standard piece of equipment in oil refineries across the country.
As the process for processing oil involved more and more heat, refineries began to require basic products such as rubber gaskets that could hold up under the increased temperatures. The answer was found in a naturally occurring material called asbestos. It could be plied into most any shape and survive great heat, so it became a key component of various industrial products. Items containing asbestos were soon very common, but years later a startling discovery changed everything. Researchers realized that asbestos was very hazardous to human health. Exposure to the material can lead to major respiratory problems and asbestos cancer. These conditions can be severe and even lead to death, but they may also take long periods of time to develop, so anyone who worked at the refinery before the asbestos was removed is at risk. Every person who may have been exposed to the asbestos laden products should notify their healthcare provider immediately.
In 1955 the refinery was rocked by a large explosion that was seen and heard for miles around. The force of the blast sent debris crashing down into local neighborhoods, and many houses were damaged. One young boy was killed when a steel pipe fell through the roof of a nearby home and landed on him as he slept. A large blaze ignited, and flames shot high into the air. Storage tanks that held large quantities of oil were directly in the path of the fire, and posed an even greater threat. Fire fighting crews from the plant were joined by several local fire departments, and the battle to conquer the blaze began. It took them 8 days to finally squelch the flames, and the incident was considered to be a National Disaster. With help from the National Guard, the facility was repaired and started to function again. The clean up and repairs took over one full year to complete.
The refinery continued to thrive after production began again in 1956. It remained a part of the Standard Oil family, under the company name Amoco, until 1998 when it was purchased by British Petroleum Co. This was a $53 billion deal, which made it the largest industrial sale of all time. BP continues to run the plant and is currently at work on a project to upgrade the equipment used at the facility and expand its operational capacity. Estimations about this project say that it should be completed by 2011, at a total cost of $3.8 billion.
Last modified: December 09, 2009.