BP completed commissioning and start-up of a 250,000 barrel-per-day crude distillation unit at its Whiting Refinery, marking a major milestone in the multi-billion dollar upgrade of the facility in Northwest Indiana.

“The safe start-up of this large, sophisticated crude processing unit at the Whiting Refinery has returned the refinery to its nameplate processing capability of 413,000 barrels per day — initially of mostly light, sweet crude — and paved the way for the remaining upgrades to the plant to be brought on-line,” said Iain Conn, chief executive of BP’s refining and marketing segment, in a prepared statement.  “When the new coking and hydrotreating units are commissioned and operating at full rates in the second half of this year, the reconfigured refinery will have the flexibility to greatly increase heavy, sour crude processing, delivering an expected incremental $1 billion of operating cash flow per year, depending on market conditions.”

Construction of the Whiting Refinery upgrade project is more than 95 percent complete. BP expects to commission a new 105,000 barrel-per-day gasoil hydrotreater, a large 102,000 barrel-per-day coker, and other associated units in the second half of 2013.

The multi-billion dollar investment in the refinery is the largest private sector investment in Indiana history and also includes several hundred million dollars in state-of-the-art environmental controls for water treatment and air emissions, according to Whiting Refinery manager Nick Spencer.

Spencer credited the 1,900 Whiting employees and large contractor workforce for safely starting the unit.

“We’ve employed more than 10,000 skilled craftspeople here at Whiting the past few years preparing for this important moment,” Spencer added.  “We’ve focused on safe execution and earlier this year logged more than 40 million man-hours without an injury resulting in a day away from work.  Our focus now is to continue this standard of safety performance through to the completion of the project later this year and for years to come.”