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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Belle Chase refinery closure a huge economic blow; over 800 lost jobs

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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Hundreds of Plaquemines Parish residents and others across the region are trying to figure out what to do next after Phillips 66 announced the closure of its Alliance refinery below Belle Chasse.

The plant has been closed since Hurricane Ida and its loss will force the Plaquemines Parish government to deal a massive economic hit.

For 50 years, the oil has been refined at the Alliance plant below Belle Chasse, but not anymore.

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“What can you do? The things that happen. I hope that doesn’t happen and things change and they don’t close,” said Bei Vaughn, the small shop owner.

The plant refined 250 million barrels of crude oil each day before Hurricane Ida shut it down, and now more than 850 workers and contractors are being told what they hope will be a pause in refining that will become permanent.

“We got the work, we got the contract, but the contract is canceled and we’re going home,” said a contractor, who asked not to be identified.

Alliance’s current owner, Philips 66, has put the property up for sale. Its president says the company is now looking into producing low-carbon fuels and parts for electric car batteries, but not in Plaquemines Parish.

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“It will also have an intermittent effect, as it will affect us on the government side of our housing market and groceries,” Plaquemines Parish President Kirk Lieben said.

Until it is sold, Phillips says it may operate the plant as an oil terminal with a workforce of about 100 people.

“It’s a tough time with the holidays approaching,” Libin said.

The workforce cuts will affect many small businesses that rely on coalition workers for income.

“The plant men come every morning and have breakfast, and they come for lunch, and everything else,” Vaughn said.

Energy experts say the loss of this refinery is significant because it is a major resource for many major pipelines.

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“They haven’t talked about dismantling, and that makes us hopeful that somebody will come in some day and have the opportunity to make it a little refinery or something,” Libin said.

Diocese officials say they are now working with Louisiana Workforce Development to try to help the unemployed find work.

“We reached out to these people and asked them to see if they could facilitate any kind of resources that these people could use,” Libin said.

But replacing such a major resource of jobs will be difficult.

“I feel bad for them, there is nothing in this area,” said the laid-off contractor.

The United Steel Workers’ Union says it is working to protect the benefits accrued for laid-off workers.

US refining capacity fell 4.5% last year, due to weak demand. The Alliance refinery became the sixth refinery to shut down since the pandemic.

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