Emergency Innovation Keeps a Chemical Refinery Open

An Innovative Distribution Solution Thought to be Impossible

Crisis Management - Resolving a Distribution Emergency

During one exceptionally cold winter, the PetroSar and PolySar petrochemical plants located in Sarnia, Ontario faced a multi-million dollar per day total shut down because they were unable to deliver their heavy residual fuel oil to local customers by means of the usual marine transportation. This residual oil represented only a small portion of each barrel of crude oil processed at the plants, and an even smaller percentage of the final refined products value. Nevertheless, inability to deliver the product threatened the petrochemical plant with complete shut-down, as all available storage capacity for the residual fuel was nearly filled.

Working with PetroSar and an American petroleum company, John proposed transporting the residual fuel product from Ontario by rail to Texas City, Texas, where it could be unloaded into a marine terminal facility and then trans-shipped by sea-going barge to Florida Power & Light's coastal power generation plants in Florida.

Limited to an unyielding timeframe of only weeks, John negotiated for the use of two ninety-six car unit trains composed of 26,000 gallon insulated railroad tank cars. These railcars were interconnected in groups of twelve, so that with a single connection all twelve cars could be loaded and unloaded. The twelve car units were then formed into ninety-six car dedicated service trains slated to run nonstop between Sarnia and Texas City.

John then negotiated through-service rail tariffs with the four railroads handling each train. He simultaneously turned his attention to the Texas City petroleum terminal responsible for unloading the railcars, as that facility had sufficient existing capacity to unload only a handful of cars each day. The required engineering was completed, the materials ordered, and construction work begun at Texas City, with the first trains leaving Sarnia while the construction progressed.

Operational timing proved critical, for though the railcars were equipped with internal coils for steam heating at destination, there was insufficient time to reheat the petroleum if it cooled below the 150°F required for immediate unloading upon arrival at Texas City. The trains' scheduled route was perfectly timed to allowed just long enough for immediate transit, unloading, and return before Sarnia's holding facilities for residual oil reached maximum capacity, which would have forced immediate closure of the entire petrochemical plant.

The first unit train arrived at Texas City the day after the unloading facility was completed. Indeed, for the duration of that winter, Sarnia's residual fuel would continue to travel this more than two thousand mile route, enabling the petrochemical plant to maintain uninterrupted operation.

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