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Transitioning Refinery Contractors to Partners

By Ralph Laurel

Nov 29, 2015

Give respect to refinery service vendors as they are a key linchpin to smooth operations.


Working in a refinery you deal with a lot of different people… many times people who work for other companies. These contractors provide a variety of different services. Many lead projects, perform design work, provide chemical or catalyst solutions, execute mechanical work, or give technical guidance.


The type of relationship you build with these contractors can be critical to the success of your refinery. It’s easy to think of these contractors as second class citizens. They are often viewed as people who are there to adjust constantly and fulfill every demand. In particular the chemical vendors at the refinery can be one of the most undervalued resources.


In a modern refinery, chemicals are expected to do a lot of heavy lifting. Whether it’s chemicals to provide clean oil/water separation in your desalter, or an antifoulant to give you longer runs on heat exchangers, or a dispersant that manages pressure drop across a reactor, or maybe even chemicals to improve shutdown times during a turnaround, there are a variety of different polymers that can improve refinery operations.


Often when things go wrong, the first direction a refinery turns to is a chemical injection in order to resolve the issue without shutting down. Many times they’re successful but sometimes they aren’t. Yet when things don’t work the work the chemical vendor is often dismissed and maybe even ridiculed.



If you have a good chemical vendor at your refinery they likely work tirelessly to ensure inventories are maintained, deliveries are made, and polymer applications are constantly evaluated to optimize effectiveness and cost.


Many times we take this for granted. We call their products snake oil or assume that since they provide a service they can be treated with lesser respect than a refinery employee. If that occurs, it’s a serious mistake.

In my humble opinion, rarely are chemical vendors out to make a dishonest dollar. Each proposed application is with the intent of success and many applications are absolutely critical to unit operations. The chemical vendor doesn’t want to see an application fail any more than you do. This is the reason that they need to treated as more than vendors and as part of the team.


Improve communication with chemical vendors so you can openly discuss potential applications but at the same time clearly understand costs in order to complete an accurate evaluation. Think creatively about new applications that may lower mechanical costs or energy costs. Understand that not every application will be successful but at the same time communicate about the probability of success.


And most of all, remember that these chemical vendors are just like you and me. They’re trying their best to add value and be successful. They’d rather make an honest dollar as part of a team that appreciates them than a dishonest dollar while being ridiculed.

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  • Daryl Dunham :   A treating supplier can be a valuable partner. But they must be part of the team. They often fail because they have not been given sufficient information to tailor their treatment to the current situation.

    Nov 30, 2015

  • Shane :   Daryl, that is often an accurate statement that you have made. However, wouldn't you think that it is also the job of a treating supplier to request the proper information? Most treating vendors work on-site at refineries, so they know what to ask and who to ask information from. If they are new vendors on a site, then they should request to conduct a full diagnostic in person.

    Dec 11, 2015

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