Twin Cities crude oil refinery plans $750 million in tech projects

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A refinery in the Twin Cities that turns crude oil into fuels is planning $750 million in projects that the company says will reduce emissions.

Proposed work at the Pine Bend Refinery, located in Rosemount, would mainly consist of upgrading older technology, some of which dates back to the 1960s, a news release from the refinery's operator Flint Hills Resources says.

In all, it's expected to cost about $750 million. The news release has detailed projects proposals (such as a "new gas oil fractionator.")

Flint Hills says the new technology will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, and lower the refinery's permitted emissions by 500 tons each year. Nitrogen oxide can cause or worsen respiratory issues, the EPA says, and when combined with "volatile organic compounds" creates ozone.

[Editor's note: The news release from Flint Hills Resources initially said the upgrades would reduce "nitrous oxide," a different type of emission. The company has since offered a correction, which is reflected in the paragraph above.]

The EPA says that in 2013, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,673 million metric tons – up 6 percent from 1990, but down 9 percent since 2005.

At the same time, the upgrades will allow the Pine Bend refinery to churn out more diesel fuel and gasoline, according to the release.

"We are going to be able to make more of the transportation fuels the region depends on and do it more efficiently and reliably than we do today, without increasing permitted emissions," Geoff Glasrud, Flint Hills' vice president of operations and manufacturing manager, says in the news release.

Since 1997, the refinery has lessened emissions by nearly two-thirds, and its emissions per barrel are about 21 percent lower than the industry average, the company says.

The Pine Bend Refinery takes crude oil (which it gets from Canasda) and turns it into other products, such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, propane and butane, according to Flint Hills' website. The refinery supplies "much of the jet fuel" used at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

It was built in 1955, and was originally established as the Great Northern Oil Company, the refinery's website says.

Flint Hills also touts the economic benefits it says will come from the projects, including 4 million hours of work that will go to its "temporary contract workforce," which currently numbers about 1,500.

Here's a promotional video the company put together giving an aerial tour of the refinery.

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