In a manufacturing environment, every piece is integral to the puzzle. Every person in every department on every unit must know and execute their role in the safe and successful operation.
“As a refinery manager, that is the most important skill for me — the ability to communicate to all team members and to reinforce their value to the performance of the team,” explained Michael McKee, vice president and refinery manager, Navajo Refining Co. at HollyFrontier Corp. “Many skills are needed here. This includes not only those persons directly involved in production but also those support groups such as accounting, inspection, purchasing, laboratory and warehouse.”
With his petroleum refining experience, McKee is well suited to lead his team of 400. McKee was born and raised in New Orleans. He attended Cornell University and earned a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering. Before joining HollyFrontier, he worked at ARCO, Amerada Hess, Murphy and Sunoco in positions including technical services engineer, operations supervisor (managing a shift of four operators) to operations manager (managing more than 400 operators) and refinery manager (Sunoco’s Philadelphia Refinery). He served as head of Sunoco’s biofuels venture, successfully converting a commercial brewery in New York to a 100MM gallon per year fuels grade ethanol facility. McKee has served in his current position since June of 2011.
A new company
HollyFrontier was formed in July of 2011 from the merger of Holly Corp. and Frontier Corp. As a result, five refineries in New Mexico, Kansas, Utah, Oklahoma and Wyoming form the foundation of the new company. Other divisions in the new company include trucking, marketing and retail.
McKee is refinery manager for HollyFrontier’s Navajo Refining Co., which consists of two petroleum refineries located in Artesia and Lovington, N.M. The Artesia refinery is situated near the Permian Basin, an area that has historically and continues to have abundant supplies of crude oil available both for regional users and for export to other areas. The Artesia site is located on 561 acres, and the Lovington site is approximately 65 miles east of Artesia. Both facilities utilize crude oil from the Mid-Continent and Canada as feedstock and produce gasoline, diesel, propane, asphalt and fuel oil. Navajo Refining traces its beginnings to the 1920s.
HollyFrontier’s five refineries have 443,000 barrels per day refining capacity. Of that, the Artesia refinery has a crude oil capacity of 100,000 barrels per day and serves markets in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. In 2012, the refinery reached record throughput levels, recording annual levels of 93,800 barrels per day.
McKee is tasked with engaging all members of his team in focusing on the key goals for the site.
“The challenges in managing a petroleum refinery all center around maintaining a safe and environmentally responsible facility while meeting the production goals necessary for economic success,” explained McKee. “These goals are mutually inclusive, which makes the alignment of the vision so critical.
“Engaging every employee in the support of our safety and environmental programs is the single biggest challenge.”
The team has made great strides in working together for safety excellence and has shown continuous improvement over the past three years.
“We have an internal goal of exceeding the average industry injury recordable rate, and I am proud to say we are below the average this year,” said McKee. “Our key safety programs all center on empowering our work force to take direct responsibility for the safety of each person in our facility.”
To facilitate this, McKee ensures the management team is comprised of change leaders.
“We spend each Tuesday in the work place walking the refinery performing safety audits and engaging groups of employees soliciting their ideas and concerns,” explained McKee. “We have implemented ‘no meeting, no email’ Fridays. This provides one focused day for each employee to focus on his or her personal objectives, reinforcing our core belief that creativity and individual goals are key to our success.”
Additionally, each day begins with a safety topic engaging all personnel in the safety focus.
The union has played a big role in the site’s safety success.
“Our union members willingly support our safety effort with full-time focus from the members we have selected as safety leaders,” said McKee. “Presently, we are working with our union as they head the implementation of a behavioral-based safety program. This program utilizes the trust we have developed and allows our employees to make direct observations of their coworkers performing work assignments.
“I am excited our union has chosen to take the lead effort in developing a behavioral-based safety program. This is a huge undertaking and shows the members’ strong regard for the importance of safety in our facility. Our union leadership approached us with a well-thought out plan with a clear vision and achievable metrics. Taking on this huge undertaking indicates our values are aligned not only in production but on the value of our most important asset — our people.”
Teaming for the future
The team will continue toward advancements in safety, working together just as they do in their community efforts.
“We are deeply engaged in our communities and participate in the local schools supporting fully the development of math and science curriculums,” said McKee. “We volunteer in providing assistance, financial and physical labor, with those less economically fortunate. We are engaged in the Chamber of Commerce fully supporting the business viability of our community. Also, we are working to develop a more vibrant environmental front including developing a nature path and the implementation of a full recycling program.”
McKee is a member of the Artesia Chamber of Commerce — a role he sees as essential.
“It is key for the economic development of Southeast New Mexico that we play a role in the business climate of our community and are seen as a member and not as an outside entity,” he said. “As the area has grown thanks to the plethora of oil and gas exploration, the viability of business opportunities will support that growth. We are blessed to live in this petroleum bread basket.”
McKee remains optimistic on the future of his industry.
“I have been eternally bullish on the petroleum refining industry,” he said. “Having been in this industry since 1979, I have seen the continuous improvement the industry has implemented in the safety and environmental arenas. Rather than collapsing under the weight of these objectives, the industry has taken on the challenge. We have improved our safety and environmental performance while simultaneously increasing the yield of high valued products from crude oil and increasing the processing capacity at each refinery.”
And the same goes for the future of his site.
“My dream every day is to wake up, sip my cup of morning coffee and read that we had no safety or environmental incidents in the plant,” he said. “We measure our continuous improvement each month in these arenas as well as our facilities’ reliability as measured by its operational availability.
“We continue to strive and increase our production and on-stream reliability performance. We will judiciously utilize our capital program to make improvements in all arenas.”
Navajo Refining Co.
501 East Main
Artesia, New Mexico 88210
Employees: Approximately 400
Products: Gasoline, ultra low sulfur diesel, asphalt and fuel oil
Size: 561 acres