To protect temporary workers from possible explosions, Flint Hills Resources' Pine Bend Refinery is seeking permission to bring up to 30 blast-resistant trailers to its Rosemount plant.

The 12-foot by 40-foot modules - costing more than $100,000 each - would provide a safe place for workers to take breaks, eat lunch and have meetings. The installation would be part of ongoing safety improvements at Flint Hills and throughout the refining industry.

The largest refinery in the state, Pine Bend turns crude oil into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other products such as asphalt and heating fuels. It produces more than 12 million gallons of the products daily.

The refinery turns out half of all the transportation fuels Minnesotans use. It provides most of the jet fuel used at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport via a pipeline from the plant to the airport.

The trailers will be needed for a possible doubling of temporary contract workers at the site -- up from a daily presence of about 500 now to 1,000 over the next five years. Workers would undertake major maintenance and tasks to comply with possible new state and federal requirements, company spokesman Jake Reint said.

At a minimum, the 14 temporary trailers used by contractors at the plant now will be replaced by the state-of-the-art modules. "In the event of an incident -- however unlikely -- they would create a safe haven" and be "the most safe structure that we can put in," Reint said.

Pine Bend is seeking a permit from Rosemount that would allow the units to be at the plant until December 2016. The city's Planning Commission has approved the permit, and the City Council is scheduled to vote on it at its first meeting in August.

Accident prompts changes

On March 23, 2005, an explosion and fire at the BP Texas City Refinery killed 15 workers and injured many more.

In the wake of that and other incidents, the refinery industry has been making safety improvements.

One of the industry's goals is to remove as many nonessential personnel as possible from close proximity to the refinery units, Reint said. To accomplish that, Flint Hills built a large warehouse complex and administration building outside the refinery area on its 4,000-acre site.

The company is seeking the permit for the new safety modules because more workers may be coming. It has more than 900 permanent employees and can have between 200 and 2,000 contract workers on the site on any given day.

Regulations will drive need

"But we could have a fairly regular presence of 1,000 or more (contractors) over the next few years depending on what happens with various pending projects -- that would be up from an average of about 500 or more we typically have on site," Reint said.

Some significant maintenance periods, when some of the refinery will be idled for "big maintenance," are ahead, Reint said.

Other projects are uncertain. If the Environmental Protection Agency comes out with a new ruling on the amount of sulfur in gasoline, the company would have to figure out how to meet that standard, Reint said. That is why the company is saying "up to" 30 of the new blast-resistant trailers may be needed.

A crane will move them close to workers. They will be heated and air-conditioned, but workers will not sleep in the units overnight and they will not be connected to sewer and water, Reint said.

The refinery claims to be the "largest continuous construction site in Minnesota," with ongoing maintenance or projects to support the refinery, Reint said: "We have a very, very active work site."

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287