Just like for all Anacordians (or Anacortesians if you prefer), March 2020 meant the start of major changes to how Shell Puget Sound Refinery (PSR) operated. Normally, PSR produces about one-quarter of the Pacific Northwest’s fuel but when work-from-home policies started to roll in, that demand dropped.

Making what people need

Just like any business, Shell PSR works to meet the need of our customers. During summer-road-trip season there is more demand for gasoline, during the holidays jet fuel demand increases as people around the country fly to see family and during a pandemic… well, that was a challenge for our Economics & Scheduling team as they worked long hours to make adjustments to our production schedule based on the current and projected product demand.

Maintenance supervisor Rick Weynands at work during a summer 2020 boom inspection at Curtis Wharf
Maintenance supervisor Rick Weynands at work during a summer 2020 boom inspection at Curtis Wharf

How the refining process works

When you see one of the large Polar vessels at our dock at the edge of Fidalgo Bay, they are likely off-loading a supply of crude oil. That crude contains hundreds of different hydrocarbon molecules and other naturally occurring materials like nitrogen, salt and sulfur. Before that vessel full of crude even hits the dock, our Economics & Scheduling team has decided what it will be refined into, so once we pump it off the ship, it heads to our Crude Unit to remove water, salt and sediments and then is sent to different units to be refined into products that are in demand. During the past year, that demand varied around the country and world as we hit different stages of the pandemic which meant constant changes around our site as some units were very busy while others less in demand than usual.

Frontline workers

PSR employs more than 600 staff and contractors and more than 400 are frontline workers. Nearly 250 operators and lab employees, 150 maintenance and projects colleagues plus dozens more contractors. Of those 400-plus frontline employees, more than 130 are also part of our in-house fire, medical, hazmat and oil spill response teams.

For the last 365-plus days, those are the essential workers that reported to site for every shift to help make sure other essential workers like nurses, grocery store clerks, police officers and those delivering the essentials many of us needed at home - could get where they needed to go.

In addition to toilet paper (we don’t make that), hand sanitizer was one of the products most in demand this year. While we don’t produce that at PSR, some of our sister Shell facilities do. We worked with them to acquire more than 200 gallons, which was distributed primarily to Skagit County Department of Emergency Management throughout the year. In addition to hand sanitizer, we also donated more than 30,000 pieces of Personal Protective Equipment to our community, including face masks, face shields and nitrile gloves, and we continue to have conversations with these important county first responders about their emergency preparedness and supply needs as they work tirelessly through the vaccination phase of this pandemic.

Each September, PSR colleagues, family and friends would normally gather at Washington Park to help support our Anacortes students through the Fueling Education Fun Run. Like everything else in town, that in-person event was canceled in 2020 so instead, we worked with Anacortes Schools Foundation to take that run virtual. With the help of more than 450 community members who participated, we raised more than $45,000 to help support the school district as it navigates COVID-19 changes including the need for additional technology and supplies to keep staff and students healthy once it was safe to reopen classrooms.

PSR first responder Justin Edson sits behind a new plexiglass barrier in the Emergency Operations Center
PSR first responder Justin Edson sits behind a new plexiglass barrier in the Emergency Operations Center

Fueling life and staying safe

Even now, more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, our purpose remains the same. Through implementing work-from-home policies for our non-essential staff, installing plexiglass dividers and other COVID-19 safety measures to facilities so emergency crews can continue training, adjusting the procedures for our production and maintenance teams to include proper PPE and social distancing work flow; we are powering progress together. We care deeply about the health and safety of our employees and those in Anacortes and other Skagit County communities, and we’ll continue to work hard – 24/7/365, pandemic or not – just as we have for more than six-decades, to adjust to your product needs and continue proudly fueling life in the Pacific Northwest.

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