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In the beginning there was petroleum, created over millions of years from dead flora and fauna. A natural product composed of carbon and hydrogen. Today, it is a source of prosperity and jobs--including at BP in Gelsenkirchen.
With 2,100 employees (including 200 trainees), BP is not just the largest employer in the city. Gelsenkirchen is also the only refinery site in Germany at which the by-products of crude oil distillation are processed into valuable petrochemicals. This unique feature makes the company, which operates affiliated plants in Scholven and Horst, a standout site within the BP group of companies.
BP Gelsenkirchen is the first link in a long value-added chain within the chemical industry. Naturally, conventional petroleum products are produced there: fuels (gasoline, diesel) to fuel 315,000 mid-size cars (60 liters each) daily; jet fuel for ten Airbus aircraft (300,000 liter tank) daily or heating oil for 480,000 households annually.
Though there is a shrinking market for this branch, the petrochemical products are a growth engine for the company. "The demand is at a high level," confirms the chair of the management board of BP Gelsenkirchen GmbH, Karl-Heinz Philippi (56).
For example, ethylene and propylene that are extracted at the olefin facility ("cracker") from naphtha (straight-run gasoline), are delivered directly to Sabic, located next door, or to the companies in the Marl Chemical Park and are further processed there. Or the other way around: Without the technology that BP utilizes in Scholven, the world would have to make do without the plastic products, synthetic fibers, paint, finishes or fertilizers that we take for granted today. And naturally without fuel. Welcome to the Middle Ages. Shareholders have invested more than one billion euros over the last ten years in the Gelsenkirchen site. Additional investments on the order of hundreds of millions will follow in the next few years to optimize the plants, according to Philippi. "The aim is to secure the future of the site for the long term," he explains.
Though, to be able to come out ahead in the cut-throat competition among refinery operators, the number of employees will also have to be reduced, says the manager. To this end, BP initiated the "Cap Verde" project in 2008, the aim of which is to cut 410 jobs in a way that has the least societal impact.
At the same time, preparations are ongoing for enlarging the chemical park. The property that will be acquired for the north-end expansion is reserved for setting up petrochemical plants, which will be able to be directly linked up to the existing infrastructure. The project is currently in the permitting stage with the city of Gelsenkirchen, and Karl-Heinz Philippi anticipates that there will be a potential investor in the next two to five years. "The north-end expansion is an investment in the future," says the CEO. "Without it, this site would be in danger in the future."
BP aims to respond with openness and transparency to resistance from residents who are against expansion of this industry. "We take the concerns of residents very seriously," declares Philippi. The company has therefore set up an environmental hotline as well and the plant's neighbors can reach a representative at any time of day or night at 0209/3663588.