Port Arthur Crude Oil Terminal: Flexibility and a Cross-Discipline Approach Save the Day

November 16, 2022

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” These words from Alice in Wonderland are a pretty good explanation of how most of our engineering projects work.

We start by meeting with the clients and understanding their needs. Then we design a solution and help implement its construction. When the project is finished, we hand over the keys or help snip the ribbon and move on to the next project.

But every now and then, we get called into a project in the middle, which requires a different approach – one heavy on flexibility and involving members from multiple disciplines.

Reach out for assistance

One such project was a greenfield 320-acre crude oil blending and distribution terminal in Port Arthur, Texas. Wichita-based P&E Solutions (PES) was the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for the project.

PES reached out to us for help on the turnover of the project.

“We were initially tasked with assisting with construction turnover, along with monitoring hydrotesting, commissioning, getting the systems checked out electrically, and checking the control systems to make sure they were working,” says Harley Alderson, vice president, industrial/energy for MKEC.

But, as we became more familiar with the project and as schedule pressures mounted for the construction team, the scope of MKEC’s involvement quickly changed. MKEC and PES worked together to identify areas where we could assist them with design and installation needs.

That meant putting more boots on the ground in Port Arthur.

Hands-on engineering

MKEC sent a team of people to Port Arthur, Texas, to provide support for the construction and to do the programming needed to help get the facility operational.

“I would say one of the largest challenges was the compressed timeline once we got involved,” says Greg Severns, instrumentation and controls specialist for MKEC. “We put in a lot of strenuous hours and provided a lot of support for the construction team.”

Joining the project near the end created some unique challenges for the programming team.

“We typically provide programming services on facilities that MKEC designs, which gives us additional time to understand the process and intended operability,” Severns says. “By not performing the design, we lost out on a year and a half of knowledge and had to come up to speed in a month’s timeframe. During that timeframe, we had to try to understand the intent of the design on how things are supposed to operate.”

Identifying opportunities for improvement

Identifying opportunities to provide solutions became a big part of MKEC’s role on the project.

“We did lots of troubleshooting and problem-solving on the project,” Severns says.

MKEC’s expertise across all disciplines helped identify trouble spots and provide solutions. Engineers from the mechanical, process, electrical, instrumentation, and structural disciplines all pitched in on the project.

“I think the project showed versatility from all disciplines to bring our expertise to the project where it was needed,” Severns says. “We have a broad knowledge of how these facilities should go together. We bridged a lot of holes and helped them to offload stuff to us to get the project done in a timely manner.”

Alderson agrees. “Just the knowledge base that MKEC brings helped identify holes that they saw and could help propose solutions.”

I think the project showed versatility from all disciplines to bring our knowledge to the project where it was needed, we have a broad knowledge of how these facilities should go together.

Greg Severns, Instrumentation and controls specialist

Finishing well

All the work MKEC team members put in on the project paid off when they were able to turn the facility over to the client. This successful teamwork helped MKEC strengthen our existing relationship with PES and has led to more projects.

“What impressed me most was how our team stepped up and handled the challenge,” Alderson says.