EDITORIAL: Flint Hills needs full attention
Anyone who thought the announcement that Flint Hills was going to cease production at its North Pole refinery was just a ploy got a smack of reality on May 1. That’s when, just past midnight, production of gasoline ended.
It was step one in the shutdown process, which was announced in February. The refinery’s crude production unit will shut down next, no later than June 1 and ending production of jet fuel and other refined products.
About 80 jobs are expected to be lost as a result.
Flint Hills is more than jobs in this town, however. It sponsors events and supports charitable organizations, lending its name and providing financial support. On April 30, the company once again hosted its annual Golden Heart Heroes luncheon in the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel’s largest conference room to honor several hundred volunteers for their work at numerous organizations.
This shutdown is real, and its impact will be great.
This wasn’t the first announcement about a shutdown at the refinery, however. It was in April 2012 that Flint Hills announced it was idling one of its two operating refinery units. That was to lead to the layoff of about one-quarter of the company’s local workforce at the time.
In a news release about that 2012 shutdown, the company said the decision was based on “challenging economics and rising crude prices.”
The situation didn’t change for the better in the subsequent two years. It was compounded, according to Flint Hills officials, by the rising cost of dealing with a groundwater contamination problem that occurred before Flint Hills bought the refinery.
Responsibility for the clean up of that mess, which has affected the water of hundreds of homes in the North Pole area, has yet to be resolved. Litigation is under way, but there has been talk of discussions regarding a settlement, which would include the state of Alaska.
Ideally, the refinery would be purchased and kept in operation before the shutdown of the crude production unit occurs. Gov. Sean Parnell indicated previously he would not hold a buyer of the plant liable for cleanup costs, a decision that increases the opportunity for a sale.
But the clock is clearly running. The shutdown has begun. Any efforts to prevent its finality should take on a heightened effort.
This is real.