Commonwealth Journal

Features

February 16, 2012

Refining Moment

Somerset native Kris Gibson will lead Continental Refining production team

Somerset — The plant manager of Somerset Refinery, evolving into Continental Refining Company, is one who Pulaski countians would call “one of us.”

Kristopher Gibson, son of Doyle and Deidra Gibson, is a native of Somerset. So is his wife, the former Kristen Flynn. Both Gibson and his wife are graduates of Somerset High School. They have two little Pulaski countians with another on the way.

Kristopher –– everybody calls him Kris –– knows his way around Somerset Refinery. He started working at the refinery as “summer help” in 1994 while still in high school.

  Gibson earned his way up through the ranks in the maintenance department; as process operator and then operations manager. In 2006, Gibson left Somerset to work for Marathon Oil in Catlettsburg. He returned to Somerset Refinery in 2008 as plant manager.

“It means a lot to me to be a factor in reestablishing this company,” said Gibson. He remembers the refinery when it was an economic engine in Somerset, Pulaski County and the region; when it was one of two oil refineries in Kentucky; when a job at Somerset Refinery was stable employment for a family man; when Somerset Refinery was a landmark, a place.

Gibson grieved as he watched the refinery’s decline; through several owners; through allegedly broken promises; through bankruptcy; through property auctions. The refinery was shut down for nearly two years.

On December 9, 2011, light was reached at the end of the tunnel. Continental Refining Company announced it has purchased Somerset Energy Refining, formerly Somerset Refinery. The new owner is Demetrios Haseotes, president, chief executive officer and chief operating officer of Continental Refining, a Somerset-based company.

Haseotes promises to revive the refinery. “What we are trying to do is reestablish the business plan, to establish a stable fuel plan,” said Gibson. “We’re looking at outside sources as well as reestablishing relations with regional producers of crude.” Producers in the region claim there were not paid by a former owner of the refinery and found other markets for their oil.

“We’re hoping to build trust where they (crude oil producers) will feel comfortable coming back to us,” said Gibson. Transportation costs of regionally produced crude would be greatly reduced by delivery to a Somerset market, Haseotes pointed out.

Gibson says Continential Refining Company will begin operation early this summer. It will increase productivity from the current “warm idle” status to 61 percent capacity by the end of this year and be operating at full capacity by mid 2013.

The company says all current positions will stay in place and 40 jobs will be added. An estimated 200 indirect jobs will result from the refinery’s operation.

Both Gibson and Haseotes say equipment at the former Somerset Refinery is in fairly good shape; that a previous owner made significant investments in the plant and repaired problem areas.

“We’ll start in phases, refining 2,000 barrels a day and ramp up from there,” said Gibson. “The plant’s capacity is 5,500 barrels a day.

Continental Refining Company will produce several products including 87-octane (regular) gasoline, kerosene, diesel and No. 4 and No. 6 (residual) heating oils. At full capacity, the refinery in a year can produce 23,000,000 gallons of gasoline, 6,000,000 gallons of kerosene, 21,000,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 30,000,000 gallons of heating oils, Gibson said.

Recalling that former Somerset Oil service stations, owned by the refinery, were auctioned by a previous owner, Gibson said the current owner at the onset is focusing more on the refinery. “If it makes sense in the future, we could reconsider service stations,” he noted.

Continental Refining Company will use natural gas from Somerset Gas Service to fire its process heaters. Haseotes said he is working with Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler and city officials to become involved in Somerset’s evolving energy center for natural gas.

The new owner is in the process of selling the former office building facing Monticello Street. New offices are being created in the former Pennzoil building at 300 Refinery Road. The offices should be ready by mid-spring, Gibson said.

Meantime, excitement is in the air among the tanks and distilling equipment along Refinery Road. Gibson can feel it; he is confident Continental Refining Company will soon bask in the glow of integrity that once surrounded Somerset Refinery.

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