We found ourselves among the lucky 400 people who signed up for today's free tour of the BP Cherry Point Oil Refinery
As would be expected when a large corporation invites the neighbors over, our tour was was well run, informative, and enjoyable.
Since cameras weren't allowed, we took a photo near one of the main employee entrances just before driving around to the recreation facility where we were to meet.
Once the security people at the gate checked our IDs against the visitors' list, they pointed us toward a gravel road that led to a large grassy field that had been painted with temporary parking lot lines. We headed for the large tent, and enjoyed the coffee and pastries while standing in line for one of the fleet of buses that had been ordered for the day.
When we boarded we met our guides for the tour, Karen and George, both long-term employees of the company now in management roles.
We learned quite a bit on our drive through one portion of the 3500 acres that British Petroleum owns across Birch Bay from us.
There are about 800 employees, and on any given day there are typically 800 contractors also on site, although occasionally there are as many as 2000.
Of the five refineries in Washington State, Cherry Point is the largest. It refines gasoline, diesel and jet fuel at the rate of about 234,000 barrels daily.
It supplies most of the jet fuel to SEA and PDX, and sends a fair amount up to YVR as well.
60% of its product leaves the refinery by pipeline. Quite a bit arrives by pipeline as well, although there are usually one or two ships at its dock. Today we saw both a "supply" ship and a "product" ship.
It originally got most of its supply from ANS (Alaska North Slope) but Alaska currently supplies 60%. Cherry Point also processes quite a bit of oil from Alberta, although it isn't equipped to refine oil from the Tar Sands.
Along with all that fuel, the refinery minimizes pollution while making money by recycling by-products. It produces 200 tons of sulfur daily, which it sells to manufacturers. Carbon dioxide is recovered and sold to producers of dry ice and beverage carbonation. And it takes a half pound of calcined coke to make one pound of aluminum. Our guides proudly claimed that one of every six cans in the entire world is manufactured using Cherry Point calcined coke.
Many of the large towers always visible at refineries are distillation towers. The different products (gasoline, diesel, jet fuel) require towers of varying heights. One tower emits what relatively little carbon dioxide is not recaptured, while most of them emit steam or, more accurately, water vapor.
Among its many employees are a significant contingent of professional rescue/fire/EMT employees, and of course a security force.
We took a guided walk through their large new maintenance shop, and were each given little BP keychains stamped out on an elaborate auto-cad machine that must have cost a few dollars.
Our cheerful guides dropped us back at the tents an hour or after we left, where a very pleasant catered picnic lunch was laid out - hamburgers, potato salad, and baked beans.
We left awhile later with our souvenir insulated BP mugs, thinking to ourselves that, if you have to live across the bay from an oil refinery, you couldn't do much better than this.