BP is moving closer to the end of what some engineers have called the "mother" of all North American refinery projects, our colleague, Tom Kloza, reports.

Sources say that BP's modernization of the company's 405,000-b/d Whiting, Ind., refinery is on schedule with all units now operating. That includes a brand new 105,000-b/d coker that will eventually allow the plant to use about four times as much heavy sour Canadian crude compared with it had used previously.

This is welcome news for folks in the Great Lakes and Midwest region... Kloza says the coker, believed to be the second-largest such unit in the world, will allow BP to run what is essentially the cheapest crude on the planet. The coker is now operational.
While a number of heavy sour blends from the oil sands can be processed, the benchmark crude for the plant is Western Canadian Select (WCS), which this autumn has sold for as much as $40-$50/bbl less than the benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI)crude.

Right now, BP is just gradually beginning to test running heavy sour crude through the new coker, and most of the feedstock is still WTI or similar blends. When the heavier material becomes the primary feedstock, the yield of the Whiting complex will increase substantially for diesel with a slight uptick in
gasoline output as well. Kloza says the refinery will make considerably less asphalt, since "the 'bottoms' of the barrels will be upgraded."

He added that "the implied economics of the facility are stunning. January barrels of heavy sour Canadian crude can be brought into the Whiting complex for about $67/bbl or
some $30/bbl under the price that conventional blendstock fetches.

Kloza says: "The scope of the project has no precedent within the U.S., with some engineers describing the work as an assembly of a new state-of-the-art refinery within an existing refinery. When all the testing is complete next year, the refinery will
be able to run four times as much heavy sour crude as before the project. Almost every processing unit at Whiting saw a modification of some sort with the work involving 50,000 tons of steel and 380 miles of pipe."