History of the last bastion of Romanian petrochemistry

The petrochemical division of Rompetrol Rafinare, member of the KazMunayGas (KMG) International Group, makes 30 years of existence this year and is the only division of this kind in Romania. With a history of three decades, the petrochemistry of Midia, as it is known by the specialists, has reached standards which place it at the top of polymer production in this part of Europe.

The beginnings, the ups and downs, the troubles and joys, but also the achievement of notable performances by the Midia Refinery have been made possible by some people dedicated to their jobs in petroleum industry. Two of the witnesses of the birth and growth of petrochemistry recalled for "Weekend Adevarul" the most important moments in the history of the Division, a history simultaneous with the history of the refinery situated on the same site.

Alexandru Nicolcioiu (67), counsellor of the General Manager of KazMunayGas (KMG), former general manager of the Petromidia Site, is the man who wrote and lived the history of this seaside petrochemical industry. Present on the site ever since the first constructions started, Nicolcioiu is a living history book of the location.

Another veteran of Midia Petrochemistry is Traian Stănică, the current Operations Manager of the Division, a man who arrived to the site in the year 1986, two years before the opening of the Petrochemical Division. Since then, he has served in all jobs, up to the position of manager. For him, the Petrochemistry Division is more than a job, is a passion. Every unit, any motor, every compressor, pipeline and, more than anything, every employee, are parts of the large Petromidia family. "In 1986, when I came here, I was the «oldest» of the boys. I was 20 at the time" says the Operations Manager with nostalgia.


The birth of the youngest Romanian petrochemistry

"The initial project, developed when the construction started at Midia, included an entire complex: refinery and petrochemistry, an industrial complex, a single legal entity, connected by synergies, with specific plants but included in a single process flow starting from crude oil and ending with polymers", explains Nicolcioiu.

Because the investments in this complex went on in parallel, the refinery was the first element commissioned in 1979, then came the investments in petrochemistry, a division started in 1988. The general project of the site bore the name of "Midia Petrochemical Complex".

"In Romania of the 1988, we were considered the youngest petrochemistry facility in the country. Then there were also the Petrochemistry Complex of Borzesti, the Petrochemistry Complex of Brazi, the Petrochemistry Complex of Valcea and the Petrochemistry Complex of Savinesti", says the General manager of that time.

Traian Stănică had been employed on the site for two years at the time when the Petrochemistry Division was inaugurated (1988). He considers that the story of Romanian petrochemistry started with the construction of the refinery. Simultaneously with the construction and commissioning of the first facilities of the refinery, the construction of the petrochemical units started on an area of 30 hectares. "We can say that the actual history of petrochemistry starts in 1988, with the first facility", highlights the Operations Manager of the division.

In the spring of 1988, the first polymer facility was started but, naturally, it couldn't work alone, it had to be supported by the surrounding units. The petrochemistry is very well integrated, operates plant by plant, like the refinery. "Then we started the polypropylene (PP) plant. About 60% of the plastic materials we encounter in the automotive zone (dashboards, bumpers and others - Ed.), in our households (bowls, films, bags, raffia sacks - Ed.), the pipes, the wonderful PPR we buy from shops for our heating systems, are mainly manufactured of this polymer - polypropylene", says Traian Stănică.


In the summer of the same year, the High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) was also started and in the autumn, the Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) was commissioned. Until the end of 1988, 11,000 tons of polymers to be used in the domestic market got out of the Petromidia gate, most of the polymers being used in the manufacture of film. "That was the year the petrochemistry, the polymer zone were born at the Midia Site. Now, we are the bastion of petrochemistry in Romania", adds Stănică.

The commissioning of the three units needed specialists, most of them being already present at the refining site, the others being brought from other socialist enterprises. But, as the two witnesses of the moment 1988 say, the plants grew together with the people and the people got specialized together with the plants.

Two years before the initiation of polymer production at Midia, in 1986, the pyrolysis plant was opened; its history was sinuous and it finally stopped in 1996, due to the lack of the financial resources that had to be provided by the State.


Transition to the free market

After only two years since the inauguration, the petrochemistry division, like the entire refinery of Petromidia, was confronting with the pass from a centralized to the market economy. On the other hand, the year 1990 was a turning point for the entire Romanian refining industry, a moment when each company tried to make its operating strategy in a new world.

We continued with the development of petrochemistry by increasing the production of polymers and we have remained the single petrochemical industry still operating in Romania and producing polymers, polyethylene, polypropylene. We have continued to grow in the production of polymers and, practically, half of the produced polymers are sold on the Romanian market. There are almost 250 units in the country - small and medium businesses - that buy polymers from us", says the former General manager of the site, Alexandru Nicolcioiu.

However, the period of the 90's was not easily passed through. A year of special importance in the history of the Petromidia Site was 1996, when the Romanian State was sole shareholder.

"In the year 1996, there were several sectorial strategies and, at one moment, it was decided that it was not necessary to have so many refineries operating in Romania and that the country would do well with a processing capacity of 10-12 million tons of crude oil. Then it was decided that the Midia Site should enter a liquidation process, some units being in a special situation, determined by the increase of the leu/dollar rate of exchange. Those who decided looked only to the figures but did not elaborate anything about the technical potential. Even I, personally, and together with the trade union leaders, participated in a government meeting and succeeded in convincing them that the technical potential of Midia is important enough, that the financial effects should be left aside and that the technical potential must be considered. Then, the decision if privatization was taken", tells Alexandru Nicolcioiu about the moment when the site was saved from closure.


After traversing several stages, when the State allowed those enterprises to continue to operate, Petromidia was privatized, the majority stock being taken by the Rompetrol Group in 2000. Then, after seven years, in 2007, the GazMunayGas (KMG) International Group became majority stockholder and the site became a reference unit in this part of Europe. The Romanian State became shareholder in 2010. with a stock of 44.69%.

Getting back to the year 1996, Nicolcioiu says that the issue of closing the petrochemistry division was also raised: "But we were constantly increasing the production of polymers, because by the efforts of our specialists we managed to enhance the performance of our plants and the production doubled or tripled. Since KMG came here, the production has constantly grown because the entire project of developing the petrochemistry has been supported."

Stănică remembers the year 1996 when the pyrolysis plant was finally closed. "Actually, the pyrolysis plant is also named the ethylene factory. It produces the raw material for the high or low density polyethylene. Unfortunately, for technical reasons and based on certain studies, we considered then that it is more profitable to stop the pyrolysis and to keep a single plant of polymers - polypropylene. This remains operational based on the refinery, the raw material coming from the refinery. By cumulating surplus value, we create the conditions for reopening the two plants based on ethylene".


Restarting the LDPE and HDPE Plants

And the prerequisites of the reopening of the LDPE and HDPE plants materialized after ten years. During all this time, the new majority stockholder, Rompetrol, made a series of investments at Petromidia, intended to guarantee the import of raw material by building a sea terminal for unloading ethylene in the port of Midia, the ethylene being then transported through a special pipeline to a cryogenic storage of 10,000 tons. Investments were also made in upgrading the polyethylene plants (LDPE, HDPE).


"In the year 2006, by a project of over 35 million dollars - a huge amount at that time - we managed to restart the cryogenic storing facility and to build a terminal for taking over the raw material. When I say cryogenic, I mean minus 103 degrees Celsius", points out the Operations Manager of the petrochemistry division.

The same year, the first ship arrived with cryogenic ethylene and the LDPE - low density polyethylene - plant was restarted. It is the soul plant of Traian Stănică, about which he speaks with passion. "In the spring of 2005, when I took over the plant for restarting it, I can say it was a heap of scrap iron kept in preservation and waiting. In one year and some months, the entire project was ready: the cryogenic storage, the complete overhaul of the plant, including the compressors. The secondary compressor is currently the largest in Romania, with the highest installed power, of 6.8 MW per hour. It consumes in an hour a little more than the town of Năvodari in one day".


The description of the plant continues, the manager listing a series of technical data that highlight how it operates. Each figure spoken by Traian Stănică is a clear proof of the passion and effort he spends in doing his job: "Imagine a gas compressed at 2,300 bar, crammed in a pipe 40 mm in diameter, the reactor being a pipe of 1,170 meters. Imagine what happens there. It's fantastic".

The LDPE plant started in October 2006 and the HDPE plant was restarted in 2007 (with an investment of 14.5 million dollars), functioning with the classic automation, command and control system. At the same time, the specialists of Petromidia were considering the implementation of a distributed command system (DCS). There were many voices who were saying that the plant would not be capable of functioning with DCS, with computer and mouse", says Traian Stănică with a smile.


KMG takes over Petromidia

Immediately after the Revolution of 1989, Alexandru Nicolcioiu, manager of Petromidia, declared that only a foreign investor could save the seashore site. "After 1990, the trend of the Romanian crude oil production was going downward. We, due to our location on the sea shore, had no access to the Romanian crude oil and were captive to the imported oil. We said then that the one who will come here to invest would better have raw material sources, would better be oil producer. Only then the technological capacity would be good enough and with a potential to increase the level of complexity. That company was KazMunayGas. That was what I was thinking then", explains now the former manager.

Since KMG, the national oil company of Kazakhstan, took over, a series of several major investments have started at Petromidia. During the period 2009-2011, the capacity of the high density polyethylene (HDPE) plant increased by more than 70%, the total value of the plant being approximately 18 million dollars. The upgrading program allowed the enhancement of the plant capacity from 60,000 to 100,000 tons/year, a diminution by over 10% of the processing costs, a diversification of the products range and an increase of the operation safety. Simultaneously with the increase of production capacity, the company also enlarged its product range with two new products intended for the production of gas transport pipes, thin film and large volume vessels.


In the same period, the automation of the systems and the integration of the petrochemical operations at the command and control center of Petromidia Refinery were completed, a premiere for Romania at that time.

The most recent investment is an annex to the LDPE plant, producing a fine powder called angel hair, fine polymer fibers discharged in the air. "There are two aspects here. First, the actual loss, there some scores of tons per year. Secondly, it is a polymer which degrades hard in nature and we must protect the nature. We invested in a project of 1.6 million USD to catch that angel hair. This fluff is energy", explains Traian Stănică.

On the whole, more than 100 million dollars were invested in the petrochemistry division of the Petromidia Site in the period 2005 - 2017.


How the first command center of petrochemical plants appeared in Romania

During the years 2009-2010, the specialists of Petromidia placed the foundations of the distributed command system (DCS) of the plant. "The architecture, the appearance of the pages, what is accessible, the manner of access were actually developed by our engineers", says Traian Stănică, the Operations Manager of the Petrochemistry Division.

There was a period of about a month when the plant was in general overhaul and a large part of the employees was in annual leave. "When the employees returned from the leave, that was in February-March, they went to the old command center and noticed that something was different. The DCS was installed and the computers were on. I told them: «Guys, good luck with your work! We have to learn together»", remembers Traian Stănică.


"The Bunker", as the employees call it, is the place where all the activities of Petromidia are currently coordinated, both the refining and the petrochemical operations. The center permits the full monitoring of operations, the control and protection of process flows, the collection and online transmission of process data and, implicitly, a diminution of production costs, this being a premiere in Romania and the South-Eastern Europe.

"The first DCS installed in this site was also in petrochemistry, at the pyrolysis plant. Later on, when the it was decided to implement the DCS in the refinery (2004) and in petrochemistry, to make the people familiar with the enclosed area, we built in the middle of the old control panel some cardboard boxes in which we installed the DCS and the operators. Imagine four boxes in which the operators entered and would not get out for eight hours. Just to relieve them of that feeling: seen and done, to touch it myself, to see it myself", says the Operations Manager.

Alexandru Nicolcioiu tells us that before the installation of the DCS, the operators "looked on the window and saw the plant". For this reason, it was not very easy for them to leave the conventional control panel where, many times, they would make a maneuver and then run to the window to see the result, because they didn't trust the field personnel, and adopt a computerized system situated very far from the plants.


From steam locomotive to DCS

The employees of the Petrochemistry Division were an integral part of these changes. There is no story, assure us the two company leaders, in which the workers are not involved and we mean both the operators and the maintenance personnel; everything is done for the people, with the people.

"They're not delighted when something changes. This is a natural setback to the change. But they familiarize themselves very quickly. The polypropylene plant had over 200 employees in 1996. Now, they are 65. This means modernization. Their number decreased somehow naturally, by retiring, going to other activity sectors, by redistribution. You can't survive and you can't keep up with evolution. Think what computers meant in 1996", says Stănică.

On the other hand, Alexandru Nicolcioiu, who managed both the refinery and the petrochemistry, says that he called this evolution as the pass from steam engine to DCS. "When we started the first plant up in 1978, for operation tests, the Midia Steam Power Plant was not here to give us steam so they brought some 10 steam locomotives and connected them in series, so that we could do our tests. That's why a tell the young people who are coming now where we started from and where we have reached: from steam locomotive, to the DCS."


Petrochemical Division, a large family

During the 30 years of petrochemistry, a true family has formed at Midia. Everything depends on the leader, on the man who can give to those around him the feeling of belonging to a group. And Alexandru Nicolcioiu and Traian Stănică are such leaders.

"On the other hand, what matters is the feeling of being part of something, be it refinery or petrochemistry, deep in our souls, it makes us feel special. The people are aware that every one of them is a member of the team. One enters very quickly into our team because there is a permanent shift of generations. Each year, young people join the elders and are considered as new members of the family, and they integrate fast", says Stănică.

The first condition that any new member of this family must meet is to know the history of the site, to know how it was, how it is and how we have reached here. "If you enter a zone where you are accustomed only with the laptop and the software, and you are not aware of the efforts which have been done to teach here, you have no basis for comparison", says Alexandru Nicolcioiu, former General Manager of the site.

He also remembers that "during the 90', I was receiving signals from the colleagues from petrochemistry that they were afraid I don't pay enough attention to their division. To make them credible, there was no week I would not pass through the petrochemistry area, by car or walking. Then they used to say: «Nicolcioiu came around, this means he pays attention to us, not only to those from the refinery». That was the beginning. First you take care of the primary flow, the oil must come in, they had to stay in line. It was the natural order of the process flow and they were afraid that would come to them. Slowly, they started to realize that I am not focused only on the refinery."


Năvodari, the town born simultaneously with the petrochemical complex

The Midia petrochemical complex is the main development engine for the town of Năvodari, as the largest employer and contributor to the local budget. Actually, the development of the town starts simultaneously with the establishing of Petromidia.

"In 1975, when the decree of establishing the site was issued, the town of Năvodari had 6,000 inhabitants. Most of them were fishermen. Some of them worked at the former Chemical Works. Since the beginning of the construction of Midia Site until 1990, the town had reached 40,000 inhabitants. The town is based on the Midia Site and on tourism. The combination of the two demonstrates that there is no pollution. People are sunbathing in the beach behind the Works", says Alexandru Nicolcioiu.

6,800 people were working in 1989 in the Midia Site, 1,500 of them at the Petrochemical Division. With the revamping of all processes, automatic control systems were adopted and the activities of maintenance and operation have been restructured. Now there are 1,700 employees, 250 of them at petrochemistry.


"It is suggestive for the connection between us and Năvodari that there is not a single family in the town not having a member hired at Midia or at a company directly connected with us. We can say that the Midia Site is the soul of the town of Năvodari. I'm convinced that if tomorrow, God forbid, these Works close, the town dies", says Traian Stănică.

Each year, Petromidia organizes, during the summer holidays, internship programs for the graduates of "Lazar Edeleanu" Technological High School of Năvodari and for the graduates of the "Ovidius" University of Constanta. Thus, scores of young people become employees at the Site.

"The University of Constanta has all the specializations we need of, the same as the Năvodari high school. Other employees move here from the Ploiesti area. We are not feeling yet a big danger regarding the personnel shortage. People know they work in a very strong large company", points out Alexandru Nicolaiciuc.


"White Tulip", arch over time

If at the refinery, during the coking operation, everything gests black, at the Petrochemical Division, the polymer grains are white, this making the people of the Site to call that division the "white tulip". How did the petrochemistry of Midia looked like in 1986 and how does it look like after 30 years, only our two interlocutors could say, as they have witnessed all the moments.

"Practically, this is another world. There are two parallel worlds. Another world that started from the ground, has improved and upgraded both technically and humanly. Our people are very well educated. I know at 6.00 all that is happening on site. We have a system organized in such a way that you can know any time what is going on", says Alexandru Nicolcioiu. He also recalls that 30 years ago "I used to wander about the workshops carrying a very large register, we called those registers summarizing documents". "Every one made a contribution. At 9.00 o'clock a had all the reports on my desk to read. Now you have them all in your computer, the information is permanently upgraded", he adds.


"It is important to be in trend, to be up to anything"

Mr. Yedil Utekov (42) is the General Manager of Rompetrol Rafinare since June 2014, and he previously held the position of Deputy General Manager of the said company, since January 2013. Mr. Utekov is a graduate of the Faculty of Resources and Hydrocarbons Chemical Technology of Astrakhan State Technical University in Russia, and started his career in the oil and gas industry back in 2001, as a process operator with Akasaraisky Gas Processing Plant in Russia; then in the months September 2001 – June 2002, he worked as operator for ZAO Intergaz Central Asia, Kazakhstan.

Mr. Yedil Utekov says that Rompetrol - KMG International have many plans of developing the Midia Site. "First, we mean a general upgrading if the refinery, we will have more raw material for our polypropylene division. We will continue our feasibility analyses on the method of increasing our production output", says the General Manager.

Moreover, the company management has great plans with the HDPE unit where an upgrading project was initiated in 2010. They have developed a considerable polymer production, initiated new products, and now they are planning to increase the production from 60,000 tons to 100,000 tons per year.

"For the LDPE unit, we also have many projects that also consider the environmental obligations: we have increased the production and want to diversify the sort types for this unit, so that this place would also reach a production of 80,000 tons of polymer per year", says Yedil Utekov.

The General manager of Rompetrol Rafinare remarks that the main competitors are ready now for the next step in the development of petrochemistry. "It is important to us to be in trend, to be up to anything, to manufacture top petrochemical products. What I have said until now is the short time strategy of developing the polymer unit. In long term, we think about a «steam cracker» unit to produce ethylene; we also consider how to launch new products at the LDPE unit, products dedicated to high voltage resisting parts."

As the sole polymer manufacturers in Romania, our country has become a very attractive market for Petromidia. The demand is high and diversified and the relations with our customers, very close. Currently, the Midia Site sells polymer grains to about 250 customers on the domestic market, these consuming about 50-60% of the total production of the Petrochemical Division.


"A family with over 5,000 members"

"The people make an important contribution in the development of this division, they come with innovating ideas that we have implemented. In any sense, itis important to have them participating in these projects and great ideas. The people feel they are part of a large family, a family with over 5,000 members", adds Yedil Utekov.

Actually, says the manager Yedil Utekov, the secret of success are the people: "When I speak about people, it is important for a guaranteed success to find a synergy among the experienced, the mature and those who are young but have excellent ideas. This symbiosis has given very good results. Therefore, the people are a large and important part of our success".


The management of Petromidia Site is planning to increase the production in the year 2018. If we compare the production of the years 2007-2009 with that of 2017, the difference is large, from 120,000 to 180,000 tons of products.

"If we look to the history of petrochemistry, starting with the year 1988, when the petrochemical sector began to develop, there have years of burst but also more sinuous years, generally caused by various political contexts. During the last 10 years we have had a good trend because we implemented the cryogenic process that came as a revelation for both the LDPE and the HDPE units" points out Mr. Yedil Utekov.

The greatest satisfaction of the General Manager, since he came in Romania, is given by the people he met at the site, by their attitude and behavior.

"The future is ours. I don't deny that we have also encountered some problems, but many beautiful things have happened here, good things. When the colleagues I work with come with grand ideas, implement them and these bear fruit, when we start from plans and reach to a final product, when we look to the results of our work, I think this is my greatest satisfaction and it's the nest thing for the welfare of our company", says the manager.

After more than five years since he is living in our country, Yedil Utekov says he likes Romania, that it is a beautiful country. "Everything is connected to my work and the people, my colleagues, make me love this country. I like their mentality, but I also appreciate its traditions. I can cover all the factors acting here in a single phrase: I love Romania!"