American Refining Group: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

If you can believe it, 2020 was actually a year of incredible progress forged at American Refining Group’s Bradford refinery.

That’s absolutely not to say the company and its staff weren’t up against considerable challenges faced by virtually the entire world. Last year was difficult at best, downright divisive at its worst. Ever-changing conditions tested resilience, while worry for loved ones’ health and safety strained nerves.

For much of the year, it felt like sailing against the wind, but one thing became clear: ARG’s dedicated employees are all on the same boat, pulling toward the company’s collective success.

ARG’s top priority, of course, was protecting its employees, whose knowledge and skill is not easily replaced. Leadership maintained frequent communication with employees to advise them of the steps ARG was taking to keep everyone safe.

With safety ensured to the greatest extent possible and exempt from shutdown orders, the company undertook the work still to be done.

With so much uncertainty and the spread of COVID-19 rampant, ARG leaders walked a fine line to balance ever changing supply, demand and inventory, adjusting refinery run rates accordingly.

Leveraging periods of lower production demand, ARG performed several unit tests to optimize throughput, yields, efficiencies, quality and operating envelopes; tests that are impossible when running at full capacity. Area business teams assigned to each process area focused on unit optimization and continuous improvements for their respective processes.

Locals likely couldn’t avoid noticing the new and very tall flare stack – looking like something taken right off a NASA launchpad – at the refinery’s southern end. Operations and EHS personnel commissioned the flare at the MEK Unit in November, further improving emissions and safety while maintaining regulatory compliance. This was a major capital project for ARG. Intense collaboration between R&D and Operations culminated in an improved bright stock, leading to the installation of new pumps and other equipment needed to produce, sell and load the product.

A capital project to upgrade the entire electrical system at ARG’s Sandyville, Ohio, terminal wrapped up in May. Railroad-improvement grant funding allowed for new loading racks at the MEK Unit, new walkways and other upgrades. Installation of a new burner-management system at the R.O.S.E./Extract Unit’s furnace improves efficiency there.

In August, the Sales and Marketing teams launched ARG’s new brand identity ARGuard™ by re-establishing distributors, adding more products to the line and ramping up sales. The refinery’s refreshed, refined website debuted in October with completely redesigned and updated product data sheets to help customers more easily find the information they need.

These projects are only highlights of so much progress made in 2020. ARG boasts a roster of many long-tenured professionals (unusual in business today) who made these achievements possible. Despite a number of retirements, the company was able to bring on new, skilled industry professionals in important roles and promoted high-performing current employees; ARG’s Leadership Team welcomed Bradford natives Mike Kozminski (vice president – research and development) and Sarah Hayden (vice president – human resources) as its newest members.

In November, ARG President and COO Jon Giberson encouraged everyone to pause and appreciate the significant progress achieved during a most difficult year.

“Again and again, I was so impressed by our folks’ willingness to pull together, always safely pressing toward progress,” Giberson said. “When you and everything around you is moving and changing rapidly, it’s almost impossible to even perceive the motion. And for most of my career, I’ve measured success relative to moving full steam ahead.

“But working through 2020 with this incredible ARG family has given me a new point of reference,” he continued. “It’s possible to throttle back a bit (halting travel for customer visits and industry conferences, collaborating virtually) and still move a little farther down the river.”

“When we pause, for just a moment, we get a sense of our progress.”