Soon after Marathon Petroleum announced that it would spend $2.5 billion to buy BP’s Texas City refinery and other assets, Ray Brooks’ phone in Illinois rang.
Marathon was looking for a proven leader who had strong process safety credentials and who understood a bit about the Texas refinery market.
Top company officials found their guy in Brooks, who was the manager of Marathon’s refinery in Robinson, Ill., and who had worked at Marathon’s Texas Refinery Division in Texas City from 1989 to 1995. Brooks said deciding to come back to Texas was an easy one. After a stint in Louisiana for the company, he had always wanted to move back south, he said.
“(Texas City) in my career was actually probably the longest I was ever anywhere,” Brooks, an Ohio native, said.
Brooks, 52, started off as the operations supervisor and then was product control manager for Marathon’s 80,000-barrel-per-day refinery, which is across the street from the refinery he now manages. That refinery was renamed Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery when the company took control in February.
Marathon is the only company Brooks has worked for.
“Our corporate values are directly what I believe in,” Brooks said. “A lot of companies will say, ‘Hey, we put safety and environmental performance first,’ (but) Marathon really does that. We invest a lot in our facilities and in our people in regards to training and equipment.”
When Marathon announced its purchase of the refinery, company officials said they would spend about $400 million to upgrade the Galveston Bay Refinery. That includes the construction of a central operations center near the refinery’s north gate, consolidating all the operating units’ control rooms in one place.
The project, started under BP’s ownership, was something unusual for Brooks, who said it includes replacing much of the control system equipment that he helped design and implement while with Marathon in the 1980s. Much of that equipment eventually was adopted as the industry standard.
Marathon’s takeover of the nation’s fifth largest oil refinery comes after the refinery completed a $1 billion, six-year overhaul, both in infrastructure and safety culture, that began under Keith Casey, who was BP’s site manager.
It’s the type of culture Brooks is accustomed to after leading Marathon’s Robinson, Ill., refinery, which is a three-time recipient of the company’s President’s Award.
“That award has nothing to do with financial performance,” Brooks said. “It’s all about responsible care (process safety, environmental performance, worker safety).
“I like the fact that’s what our company is built on. I have heard our CEO Gary Heminger say it multiple times: ‘If we take care of our people and we protect our community, everything else will take care of itself.’
“We concentrate on being good operators.”
Brooks said when he officially took over as manager in February, the former BP workers were ready to take on the Marathon way of doing business. That was a good sign at a refinery that was rocked by a series of fatal explosions in 2005. That accident killed 15 contract workers and injured 170 other workers and forced changes in culture, equipment, procedures and infrastructure.
Marathon’s vice president of refining, Rich Bedell, made a point that the refinery is not the same refinery it was when Marathon announced its agreement to buy the 1,200-acre facility.
Brooks noted that there have been a lot of change in personnel, meaning most of the refinery’s workers did not work at the refinery before the culture and safety changes started in late 2005.
“What I see here is a very welcoming and energized workforce,” Brooks said. “(Workers) have done their research and know what Marathon stands for — and really not had to do a lot of research. We’ve been right across on 14th Street for many, many years, so they know people who have worked over there and ... know what Marathon stands for. So what I have found is that people are eager to say, ‘What do you have planned for us?’
“‘We are willing to do things the Marathon way.’”