SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Thousands of temporary jobs will be created in New Brunswick this fall during a maintenance and upgrade project at the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John described as the largest in the company’s history.
Company officials said Thursday the $200-million project, or turnaround as it is termed, will see half the refinery shut down for 60 days starting Sept. 16. The refinery’s output will be halved to about 150,000 barrels a day while the work is underway.
The company does a turnaround at the refinery each year, but says this one — dubbed “Operation Falcon” — will be the largest in the company’s history.
Gary Ritchie, president of the New Brunswick Trades Unions, calls it significant.
“This is the biggest shutdown we’ve ever done here at the Irving refinery in my time,” he said.
“It will employ people from one side of New Brunswick to the other.”
The majority of the pipefitters, electricians, boiler makers, and other skilled workers will be hired from within New Brunswick, while about 10 per cent will come from other parts of Atlantic Canada and beyond.
Mark Sherman, vice-president of Irving Oil, said while there will be a number of pieces of new equipment installed, workers will inspect, clean, and refurbish other equipment to make it safe and reliable for the next five to six years.
Irving Oil president Ian Whitcolm said the project signals the company’s long-term commitment to the economic future of Saint John and the rest of the region.
“Continued investments like Operation Falcon have allowed our company to thrive where other companies are struggling,” he said, noting the closure in recent years of refineries in Halifax and Montreal.
The company says the project will generate $27 million in direct spinoff benefits for Saint John while the work is underway.
Discussion among politicians and others at the announcement inevitably turned to the proposed Energy East pipeline, a $12-billion project to move western oil as far east as the Irving Oil refinery and a proposed export terminal nearby.
Sherman said while the current turnaround is not directly related to Energy East, it does help prepare the refinery for any future upgrades.
“You always want to bolt on that type of work onto a good, reliable operating entity,” he said.
This is really about making sure, whether we do any future investment or not with major projects, you need to make sure that the operation today is safe and reliable.”
The Irving Oil refinery opened in 1960 and is the largest in Canada.