Friday, February 13, 2015

1910 panaramic view of Standard Oil plant in Whiting, IN

This plant is now owned by British Petroleum. It is currently in the news because it is one of two BP plants that is striking. But my main reason for this posting is to record the link to a really neat 1910 photo of the plant that I found while researching the South Chicago and Southern.

1910 Photo from Library of Congress

Indiana Historical Bureau posted
On September 22, 1889, the Chicago Tribune reported that construction was underway on the Standard Oil Refinery in Whiting. The paper noted that "Out on the sand dunes along the lake shore just beyond South Chicago and the Indiana state line, there are 800 men hammering rivets through great plates of boiler iron." The men were building fifty foot tanks for John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Co. Indiana-based subsidiary. 
According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, by the mid-1890s the Whiting plant was the U.S.'s largest refinery, "handling 36,000 barrels of oil per day and accounting for nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. refining capacity." In 1955, an explosion destroyed the Whiting refinery, leaving 800 homeless, taking the lives of two, and costing ten million dollars in damages. Standard Oil bought 140 of the 180 damaged homes and eventually rebuilt its Whiting plant.
Learn more here: 
The image below showing the refinery is courtesy of the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society.

I can't find the Chicago Tribune article that I had read a few days ago about the strike. This is the best I can find now. What I remember from the article is that the strike is not over wages but the excessive overtime the workers are being required to work. Yet the strike is also complaining about the company using too many contract workers. The union claims that contract workers are not as well trained in safety as the union workers are. But when I learned that carpenter unions don't let a carpenter move his ladder because that is the job of someone in the laborer union, I have to wonder if what the union calls "safety" is what I would call "silly work rules." The article said the company plans to run the plant during the strike with replacement workers. This raises the same question in my mind that the union asked --- how come you can't find enough safety trained workers to relieve overtime, but you can find enough to run the plant? I know from working for Bell Labs that part of this answer is that engineers and other management have to leave the comfort of their offices and go work in the plant. They would not consider that a long term solution to solving the overtime issue. Also, the replacement worker defer maintenance work. I assume that refineries are now like telephone switching offices --- they are so automated that they actually run better during a strike because there is no maintenance work messing around with the equipment. But there is a limit as to how long you can defer maintenance work.

A $300m construction job is installing a naphtha hydrotreater "to meet a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate to ensure that gasoline has less than 10 parts per million of sulfur, instead of the current standard of 30 parts per million....It will include two reactors and exchangers that will be located near the center of the refinery." [NWItimes]

A nice overview photo at the beginning of "reduce emissions by 2025."

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