ConocoPhillips not only segments its industry based on the division of industry in which the work takes place, but also based on location. This allows the company to take advantage of transportation and local markets, and to focus on both assets and regional commercial activities. The Billings Refinery in Billings, Montana, is a part of ConocoPhillips' Refinement and Marketing division on the US West Coast.
Conoco's Billings refinery is a crude oil processing plant with a capacity of 58 million barrels per calendar day. The Billings refinery processes a mixture of heavy, high-sulfur crude oil from Canada and domestic crude - both high-sulfur and low-sulfur. All processed crude oil is delivered to the refinery by pipeline. Using a delayed coker, the refinery converts heavy residues containing high amounts of sulfur into light oils with a greater value. The plant produces gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel fuels and fuel-grade petroleum coke. After the refinement process is complete, products are delivered to markets in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Washington by pipeline, truck and rail.
Billings Refinery in the News
Most recently, the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Montana, was in the news on Christmas Day 2008 when a fire broke out in a unit related to gasoline production. Although firefighters and plant staff responded to the fire, no injuries or harm to the environment were reported. Likewise, the fire created no impact on the daily production of the Billings refinery.
Asbestos in Oil Refineries
For most of the 1900s, the mineral called asbestos was used as a building material in cases where flames or temperature extremes were a concern. Oil refineries like Conoco's Billings, Montana, refinery, therefore, were frequently made with asbestos-containing materials. Another property of some types of asbestos is that they are unaffected by chemicals. Given the kind of work that goes on in oil refineries, asbestos, therefore, was not only used in factory buildings, but also in lab equipment, benches and protective garments. There is little question that asbestos was extremely effective at safeguarding against combustion or extreme heat. This ability, however, came with a horrible cost in terms of human health.
In general, amosite was the type of asbestos used. When it is mixed with chrysotile, which is resistant to heat and bases but not as impervious to acidic compounds, amosite creates materials that are especially effective at preventing damage from corrosive chemicals. This amosite, in the form of asbestos transite, appeared in chemical plants and oil refineries across the US for decades before it was banned as a construction material in the 1970s.
Asbestos transite could be laminated and molded into working surfaces just like cement could. This form of asbestos did not offer a health hazard as long as it was solid. As this transite grows older and become prone to crumbling, however, lethal, microscopic particles are able to flake off into the atmosphere. When it is in this state, it is said to be friable, a term used to describe material that is easy to crush. Industrial ovens also often were constructed with friable asbestos in insulation linings.
Why Friable Asbestos Is a Problem
Asbestos particles, when they are friable, can be readily dispersed into the air. Breathing asbestos fibers can result in conditions like asbestosis or cancer. Another unusual, but often deadly, disease linked to asbestos is a type of cancer called mesothelioma. The pleural form of the illness, which affects the lining between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most common. Peritoneal and pericardial mesothelioma are caused by the ingestion of fibers of asbestos, which happens if the microscopic particles become airborne and land on food or drinks.
Increased pressure from medical scientists, the press and concerned citizens resulted in laws regulating how to use asbestos. Asbestos use was more common, however, when plants such as Conoco's Billings refinery were first operating. And even now, asbestos from long ago may be the source of problems if it is not properly contained during remodeling and demolition projects.
The Hidden Hazard of Asbestos
One of the insidious aspects of exposure to asbestos is that associated illnesses can take many, many years to manifest - frequently long after the worker has left the employer. When a former employee starts exhibiting signs such as a persistent cough, pain in the chest or abdomen and shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea), his or her doctor may not at first identify asbestos exposure as the culprit, leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. It is very important, therefore, that those who worked at or lived near places like Conoco's Billings, Montana, refinery ask their for a mesothelioma treatment guide. Such information can assist doctors to make accurate diagnoses; especially since there is no mesothelioma cure, the sooner the diagnosis, the better the odds of survival or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life.Sources
City-data.com - Billings, Montana History
ConocoPhillips - About ConocoPhillips
ConocoPhillips - US Refining Industry: West Coast
KULR8.com - Billings Refinery Fire
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops
University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal