Governor Sean Parnell said the state is not to blame for Flint Hills decision to close its North Pole refinery. Costs related to the cleanup of sulfolane groundwater contamination, from historic spills of the industrial solvent at the refinery, are identified by Flint Hills as a factor that went into the decision to stop production. The state recently set a strict sulfolane contamination threshold for ground water cleanup, but speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Parnell downplayed the significance of state regulation in the refinery’s shutdown.
Parnell likened the Flint Hills decision to shut down the refinery to Agrium’s 2007 closure of it’s fertilizer plant on the Kenai, attributing both on decreased oil and gas production that resulted in increasingly expensive feed stock and operating costs. Parnell said he is focused on finding opportunities for refinery employees who will lose their jobs because the closure scheduled for this spring.
The shutdown of the refinery will take away a ready source of heat for crude oil shipped down the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Portions of oil unused by Flint Hills to produce fuel are returned to the mainline, and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company spokewoman Michelle Egan said the heat added at the refinery has become increasing important to ensure oil keeps flowing during the winter.
Egan said Alyeska pays Flint Hills for the heat, and will spend the money on alternative methods to keep crude flowing safely.
Adjustments to pipeline interface infrastructure at North Pole may be required when he Flint Hills refinery stops taking crude oil, Egan said.