March 23, 2020 / 6:11 PM / in 10 days

UPDATE 2-St. Croix oil worker has virus, upends refinery restart plan

(Adds CEO comments, details on quarantine)

March 23 (Reuters) - The summer startup of a major oil refinery in the Caribbean is no longer assured after a construction employee tested positive for the coronavirus, the head of Limetree Bay Refining said on Monday.

Once the world’s largest refinery, the Limetree Bay Refinery on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, is undergoing a $2 billion overhaul expected to finish this summer. Its former owners had shuttered the plant in 2012, and the facility was acquired by Arclight Capital Partners and Freepoint Commodities four years later.

The worker who took ill was part of a team of 3,000 people involved in an overhaul that aims to refurbish and restart a portion of the Caribbean island’s former Hovensa refinery. About 1,400 construction workers live onsite at the St. Croix plant, which also has a nearby 34-million-barrel oil storage terminal.

“I’m not going to predict a start date under these circumstances,” Brian Lever, chief executive of Limetree Bay Ventures, told Reuters in an interview. “We’ve seen in other situations that this starts off slow and accelerates quite quickly.”

The company recently was aiming for a June or July start of commercial processing operations after a new delay caused by greater-than-expected corrosion discovered during the overhaul.

Arclight did not respond to a request for comment.

Other employees who came in contact with the worker were quarantined, Limetree Bay said in a statement.

Limetree Bay earlier had set aside two of its onsite housing facilities with 30 beds each to isolate any employees who show symptoms of the illness, Lever said.

The investment aimed to restore a section of the plant to be able to process about 210,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The owners began the project to meet expected demand for low-sulfur fuels in ocean-going vessels under a mandate that took effect in January.

Private equity firm Arclight raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors including funds affiliate with BlackRock, Barclays, EIG Global Energy Partners and others. Arclight recently reduced its holding to less than 50%, one investor said.

BP Plc agreed to supply crude and sell the refined products produced at the refinery, which covers an about 1,500-acre (607-hectare) site on St. Croix. The refinery’s peak capacity in the 1970s was 650,000 barrels per day. (Reporting by Gary McWilliams Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler)

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