What is an Oil Refinery?
Oil refineries are industrial facilities which process crude oil so that it can be used in a variety of products. These products include ink, heating oil, and nylon rope, just to name a few. The refining process is very complex, but consists of four basic steps: separation, conversion, treatment, and storage.
Separation: Crude oil molecules are separated into light and heavy hydrocarbons as they’re heated inside a tall distillation column, usually at a temperature of 650-750°F. As the oil is slowly heated it vaporizes, condensing at various temperatures and at different levels inside the column, with lighter gases gathering at the top and heavier liquids collecting at the bottom. Trays located at different heights in the column are used to catch the liquids, which are also called fractions or petroleum cuts. Once this process is completed, heavy liquids left in the column are typically transferred to a second, where the separation process is repeated.
Conversion: The separation process usually leaves an overabundance of heavy hydrocarbons which are further converted or “cracked” into lighter ones that can be used in products such as gasoline and diesel fuel. This process happens at a temperature around 900°F.
Treatment: The liquid is then treated to remove molecules such as sulfur, which can be corrosive and cause air pollution. There are two main reasons for this. The first, obviously, is to improve air quality. The second is to improve the efficiency of catalytic converters, which are used to treat exhaust gas.
Storage: Once the entire process is completed, the refined oil is stored at a facility known as an oil depot or a tank farm before being transported to different points across the country.
Oil refineries are often very large, and made up of separate units connected by a complex maze of pipes which transport oil and other chemicals from one to another. As of 2016, there were 141 oil refineries operating in the United States, with the largest located in Port Arthur, Texas.
Asbestos Risk for Oil Refinery Workers
Because these facilities are so large, it’s often the case that replacement components are built and assembled on-site. When something breaks, it’s repaired on-site as well. This means that at any given time, refineries see a flurry of activity as engineers, ironworkers, welders, electricians, and a variety of other professionals work hard to make sure the refinery runs as it should.
Much of the equipment these men and women work with contains asbestos. Before limits were placed on its use, asbestos was often used as thermal insulation in case of fire. As a naturally occurring mineral, it was used to manufacture pipes, tiles, various gaskets, pumps, and even gear used to protect workers from fire and other injuries. When any of this material is damaged or in need of repair, asbestos fibers can be inhaled by those around it. Because of this, the men and women in these jobs are at high risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses.
Jobs at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Working in an oil refinery is not the only job that comes with the risk of asbestos exposure. Others include:
- Industrial workers
- Shipyard workers
- Construction workers
- Railroad workers
It’s important to remember that, while these occupations are at an elevated risk of exposure to asbestos, those working in them often unknowingly expose others to risk as well. Microscopic asbestos fibers can become stuck in the clothes and hair and taken along to any public place, where they’re then inhaled by anyone in proximity.
If you work in an oil refinery or any profession that works in close proximity to asbestos-containing material, it’s important to take the proper precautions. Decontaminate not only yourself, but your clothes and the equipment you work with so that asbestos won’t be spread to those around you.
If You Work in an Oil Refinery and Were Exposed to Asbestos
Those who have worked in an oil refinery and were exposed to asbestos may be considering filing a lawsuit against a former employer. If you would like more information on filing an asbestos lawsuit, consider speaking to an experienced asbestos attorney. They can answer your questions and help you get the compensation you deserve.