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Belle Chase refinery closure a huge economic blow; over 800 lost jobs

“It’s a tough time with the holidays coming up,”
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:16 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Hundreds of Plaquemines Parish residents and others across the region are trying to figure out what to do next now that Phillips 66 has announced the closure of its Alliance Refinery below Belle Chasse.

The plant has been shut down since Hurricane Ida and its loss will force the Plaquemines Parish government to take a huge economic hit.

For 50 years, oil has been refined at the Alliance plant below Belle Chasse, but not anymore.

“What can you do? Things happen. I hope it doesn’t happen and things change and they don’t close it down,” said convenience store owner Bee Vaughn.

The plant refined 250 million barrels of crude oil each day before Hurricane Ida shut it down and now more than 850 workers and contractors are being told what they hoped would be a temporary refining stoppage will become permanent.

“We got the work, we got the contract, but the contract got canceled and we’re going home,” said a contractor who asked not to be identified.

Alliance’s current owner, Phillips 66, has put the property up for sale. Its president says the company is now looking at making lower-carbon fuels and parts for electric car batteries, but not in Plaquemines Parish.

“It’s also going to have a trickle-down effect it will affect us on the government side our housing market and our grocery stores,” said Plaquemines Parish President Kirk Lepine.

Until it’s sold, Phillips says it may operate the plant as an oil terminal with a workforce of around 100 people.

“It’s a tough time with the holidays coming up,” said Lepine.

That workforce reduction will impact many small businesses that depend on Alliance workers for income.

“Every morning the plant guys come and get breakfast, come get lunch, and everything else,” said Vaughn.

Energy experts say the loss of this refinery is significant because it is a key supplier for several major pipelines.

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Oil refineries were not spared the impact of Hurricane Ida and power outages.

“They haven’t talked about dismantling so that makes us optimistic that maybe someday someone will come in and will have the opportunity to make it a small refinery or something,” said Lepine.

Parish officials say they are now working with Louisiana Workforce Development to try and help the unemployed find work.

“We have reached out to those guys and asked them to see if they can facilitate any kind of resources these people can use,” said Lepine.

But replacing such a major supplier of jobs will be tough.

“I feel bad for them, there’s nothing in this area,” said the laid-off contractor.

The United Steelworkers Union says it’s working to protect accrued benefits for laid-off workers.

U.S. refining capacity fell by 4.5% last year, due to weak demand. The Alliance refinery becomes the 6th refinery to close down, since the pandemic.

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