Shell Refinery Martinez

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When what is now Shell Oil Company built a petroleum refinery along the Carquinez Strait back in 1915, motor-driven “horseless carriages” were still outnumbered by carriages with real horses, and the plant was the first modern-style, continuously running refinery in the United States. It could process a then-impressive 20,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

After more than a century of expansion and modernization, the Shell Martinez Refinery occupies 1,000 acres of bayside land and employs 700 people, making a major impact on the economy of the Martinez area.

Shell Martinez’s state-of-the-art facilities convert up to 165,000 barrels of crude oil a day into automotive gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, petroleum coke, industrial fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas and sulfur. Its gasoline and diesel supply retail outlets all over the West Coast and the upper Midwest.

The refinery traces its roots to 1913, when the Royal Dutch/Shell Group built a shipping terminal to import and distribute gasoline along the Pacific Coast. The company soon purchased oilfields in California’s Central Valley and began building the refinery plus a 170-mile pipeline to transport oil to Martinez.

At first the plant produced largely “heavy oil” products such as lubricating oils. But a Light Oil Processing Facility, completed in 1966, added the ability to chemically break apart, or “crack,” the longer molecules found in crude oil into smaller molecules suitable for gasoline and diesel.

In 1983 Shell completed an $800 million modernization of its California refineries, making Shell Martinez one of the safest, most environmentally sound and most efficient in the world.

Completed in 1997, a $1 billion Clean Fuels Project enabled the refinery to comply with new state and federal regulations that require cleaner-burning gasoline. Reformulated gasoline has had a significant impact on improving air quality in the Bay Area.

Most of the 700 workers are highly skilled craftspersons and experienced operating personnel who make sure the refinery functions safely and efficiently.

A large technical staff plan for maintenance of equipment and construction of new facilities. Engineers and inspectors fine tune operations for improved efficiency. Chemists and laboratory technicians assure product quality. Other professionals provide expertise in purchasing, finance, environmental stewardship, health and safety, communications, human resources, training and other functions.

For all of them, concern for employee safety and for the environment – both at the refinery and where Shell’s products are consumed – always ranks at the top of their priorities.