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From harness grease to high-tech

Utah’s largest refinery celebrates 100 years

SHARE From harness grease to high-tech

Tesoro Corp.'s Salt Lake City refinery — the largest in Utah — was originally constructed in 1908 and was the first refinery in the valley to produce lubricating oils, harness dressings and lamp oil for local businesses.

Now, the 145-acre refinery processes crude oils from Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Canada, and manufactures gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and liquefied petroleum gas.

Nearly 100 people, including former employees and local dignitaries, attended a centennial anniversary luncheon Thursday on the grounds of the Tesoro oil refinery located at 900 North and Beck Street in Salt Lake City.

The original business, called Lubra Oils Manufacturing Co., was co-founded by C.J. Gustaveson, a Swedish immigrant who converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The facility has been owned by various oil companies over the years and was acquired by San Antonio-based Tesoro in 2001.

According to Tesoro, the Lubra Oils refinery was initially built to process seven barrels per day of Wyoming crude oil. The refinery now has a total capacity of 58,000 barrels per day.

Refinery manager Dan Cameron said that with oil and gasoline prices at all-time highs, operations like the Tesoro refinery are having to work hard to maintain profits.

Tesoro doesn't drill for its own oil, so the company is in the difficult position of trying to compete with oil companies such as Shell and Exxon, which produce and process their own oil, Cameron said.

"We have to buy crude oil off the market," he said. "Our profit is made from buying that crude oil, processing it and selling it at the refineries. So we would like crude prices to be lower."

At the event Thursday, former workers and local officials, including Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, toured the site on a bus after lunch and could view historical photos and memorabilia that were on display.

Tesoro training manager Lee Dickson said in an interview before the tour that at one point, the facility employed about 600 people. But improved technology has made it possible to operate the facility with just over 200 employees, he said.

"Everything here is done by computers," he said. "We just put in all the specifications, and the computers manipulate all the variables to make the fuels."

Dick Ward began his 36-year career at the refinery in 1968, working in processing for American Oil, the company that then owned the facility. Since his retirement in 2004 as a shift supervisor, he does consulting for Tesoro and has become the facility's de-facto historian.

"I wasn't a historian to start with. I'm just an old guy who's been around a while," he said jokingly.

Ward, whose father had worked at the refinery for 33 years as an engineer, said he is proud that his family has had such a long association with the refinery.

Among the biggest changes to the oil-refining process over the years has been the improvement in technology to reduce the pollution emissions, he said.

"They're on the leading edge of environmental and pollution control," he said, with units that remove the sulfur from diesel, "and they're building a unit now that will remove the sulfur from gasoline."

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com