Leveraging Standards in the Energy Resurgence

An Interview with Fred Walas, P.E., Fuels Technology Manager, Marathon Petroleum Company

Marathon Petroleum’s Fred Walas talks about today’s energy developments, sustainability at his company’s refineries and the crucial role of standards in fuel production and quality control.

As the energy spectrum shifts in the United States, forms of resource extraction and production involving shale gas, oil sands and coal bed methane present both challenges and opportunities. What is Marathon Petroleum’s perspective on this shift and what involvement does your company have?

If you go back to the basics, having plentiful, reliable energy is critical to our nation’s prosperity. The recent big increases in energy supplies have been a real benefit to consumers here.

Marathon Petroleum is the nation’s fourth largest integrated refiner, and we’re actively participating in the nation’s oil resurgence.

We look at materials produced from various shale fields as potential feedstocks. We have seven refineries, and two of them — one in Canton, Ohio, and one in Catlettsburg, Kentucky — are very near the Utica shale. We’re making capital investments at both of those refineries to process the shale oil because it makes strategic and economic sense for our company. We are also making investments in our logistical system. For example, we have ownership interest in approximately 37 percent of the Sandpiper pipeline, which when constructed will allow Bakken shale crude from North Dakota to be transported to a large crude oil hub in Patoka, Illinois. We’re investing in the pipeline as a way to make the Bakken crude more accessible for the country and our refineries.

Companies select crude oils based on a narrow range of physical properties that allows each unique refinery to operate in an optimized, efficient manner. We utilize a crude library, which is a collection of assays for crude oils from around the world. The assays consist of physical and chemical data about the crude, which allow us to predict the yields of various components as well as their properties.

Our refinery models use this information to predict operating rates and conditions as well as predicting the product slate from the refinery. The properties are related to the ASTM test procedures that the refinery labs use to monitor refinery operations and properties of the finished product. We have a group that makes sure that the assays that we’re using in our models of the refinery match up with the quality of the crude that’s available on the world market.

Why does Marathon Petroleum get involved with standards development and how does it benefit your company?

We have a very strong quality culture here at Marathon Petroleum, and our goal is to provide products that meet or exceed customer expectations. Customer expectations are defined through state and federal fuel regulations, and the regulations define physical and chemical properties using ASTM standard test methods. The states and federal government rely on consensus-based test techniques, and ASTM is the consensus group they rely on.

The U.S. logistical system moves gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from the refineries, which tend to be concentrated in refining centers such as those on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and then transported long distances via pipelines or barges to where the consumers are. Transportation fuels are a fungible commodity, meaning for example, that regular gasoline from various manufacturers is all pretty much the same except for the additive packages that go in at the terminal level. If it wasn’t that way, the cost to the customers of moving the product would be much higher. Everyone would have to move their own material instead of the pipeline companies combining our gasoline with that of two or three other refiners and making a large batch to ship through the system.

If we didn’t have consensus standards, it would be difficult for all parties to agree on what the fuel quality is — what the octane of the gasoline is, or what the sulfur or cetane index of the diesel is. Because the pipelines use ASTM standards, we’re all moving the same type of material, and consumers benefit from that.

By working through ASTM, where you have a consensus group that brings together all the stakeholders to provide input, we feel that we gain the best understanding of what those standards need to be. We end up with standards, supported by good science, that make sense and benefit everyone, from producers to consumers.

How does Marathon Petroleum use standards in its operations?

ASTM standards are the benchmarks that everybody uses, including D4814, which is the gasoline standard for spark-ignition engines; D975, which covers diesel fuels; and D1655 for jet fuel.1

The standards are very clear, and they give you a range of acceptable values for a property, but equally important, they tell you how to measure the properties.

The benefit for us when you’re in a commercial setting is that everybody is speaking the same language about what the products are supposed to look like and what the allowable property ranges are. When we say that we have gasoline that meets ASTM D4814, other oil companies, pipeline firms, trading companies, terminal operators, marketers and state regulators can refer to D4814 and know the physical properties of the fuel and know what test methods we’ve used to measure those properties.

We view the standards as a way to make sure that we’re providing our customers with what they need. The consumer benefits from our use of consensus standards because all suppliers are using the same measuring stick that results in a more consistent product.

Marathon Petroleum participates in the ASTM International Proficiency Testing Program; how is it useful to your company?

ASTM’s program provides a way to see how our lab stacks up against other participants. It also lets us see what kind of variability other labs are seeing with an analytical technique. Our refineries take part in 13 programs, including aviation fuel, crude, gasoline, fuel ethanol and more.

We see a benefit in the program because it gives participants a comfort level that the tests are reproducible and repeatable across the industry. If you look at quality programs, one of the things you try to do is minimize your variability and operate closer to your specification. By having good data on how everybody else works with these different analytical techniques, you can evaluate and adjust your ability to do so. The program also provides a means for objective comparison of the performance of our labs against the industry.

What is Marathon Petroleum’s commitment to environmental stewardship and what efforts are currently priorities in this area?

Our top priorities are safety and environmental stewardship, and there are many things we do to demonstrate these core values.

Marathon Petroleum is the only refining company that adheres to the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care program, an umbrella program that sets rigorous standards for safety, environment and other areas. One of the linchpins of that program is looking at continuous improvement. We’re very involved with the program; it’s the mantra of how we manage ourselves.

Also, our company is around nine percent of the U.S. refining capacity, but we’ve earned more than 75 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR facilities awards since 2005. ENERGY STAR is a program for facilities that considers how much energy you are using in comparison to other companies. It shows that we’re very focused on investments that improve our energy efficiency; it also shows we’re using the least amount of resources that we can to produce our finished product. That reduces our footprint on the environment.

When we look at our capital budget for our facilities, there’s always a component for ways to improve our efficiency, minimize our emissions, reduce waste generation and to recycle material when possible. Anything that we don’t sell as product or use in the process of making our product is lost, and we want to minimize that.

I can give you an example. Our refinery in Garyville, Louisiana, is probably in the top two or three for energy efficiency in the country as calculated by Solomon Associates, an energy consultant, which does a large benchmarking study in this area. The Garyville refinery is one of the most efficient in the country from an energy standpoint.

One of the things we do to gain that efficiency in Garyville is to move hot hydrocarbon streams immediately from one processing unit to another without intermediate steps. In many cases, a refinery will cool down a stream, send it out to storage, bring it back and heat it up again for further processing. Without the cooling down and reheating we can recover more energy. Also, most of our heaters have air pre-heaters to recover heat from exhaust gas and reuse it. It’s technology that’s available, and we’re applying it at our facilities.

Another efficiency example comes from our pipeline business, which has a group that monitors the power of the pumps used to run the pipeline. We use detailed algorithms indicating when to start pumps and when to shut them down so that we are always running the minimum number of pumps that are necessary. We’ve done the calculations and provide the operators with the tools they need to make sure we are operating as efficiently as possible.

At Marathon Petroleum, we are proud of the work we do. Our 30,000 employees manufacture, transport and market fuels and other products that make people’s lives better in innumerable ways.


1. The standards are D4814, Specification for Automotive Spark-Ignition Engine Fuel; D975, Specification for Diesel Fuel Oils; and D1655, Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuels.

Fred Walas, P.E., is the fuels technology manager for Marathon Petroleum Company, and his current responsibilities include working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, other oil companies and automobile companies to develop new fuel standards. Walas has 33 years of experience in the refining industry and has worked at three of Marathon Petroleum’s seven refineries as well as in the corporate headquarters. He has been involved in the optimization efforts of Marathon Petroleum’s refining, marketing and transportation system from a refinery as well as the corporate oversight perspective.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.