Full Story and Photos of the Augusta Refinery - Its' History and Its' Demise


Photos and text from Williams Pipeline "LINE MARKER" January 1994

The Augusta Refinery
before demolition spring of 1992

The Augusta Refinery
as it appeared fall of 1993


No one marched seven times around and there was no sounding of trumpets, but our Augusta, Kan., refinery -- the inactive portion -- has come tumbling down.

More than 2,000 rounds of explosives have been used to demolish enormous chimneys, towers and massive concrete foundations.

Concrete and brick flew as building,
towers and chimneys were dynamited.

One of more than
100 buildings torn down on the refinery site

For more than a year, as many as 10 big pieces of rubber-tired or tracked equipment and 50 workers battered, cut, scooped and hauled concrete, metal and wood from the 440 acre complex six days a week. Most of the demolition was concentrated in a 140 acre area about the size of 70 city blocks.

Contract crews demolish one of more than 100 steel storage tanks -
the largest having a 75,000 barrel capacity. 
Our largest tank farm - Des Moines - has 52 tanks

Past finds of ancient pottery suggest that Indians may have inhabited the area some 3,000 years ago. Oil was discovered in 1910.

The Augusta Field boasted some 200 oil and gas wells seven years later, when fledgling White Eagle Oil Company started construction of the refinery. The oil company and refinery were named for a chief of the Ponca Indians.

During the Roaring '20s, the refinery grew in size and sophistication. And, with it, White Eagle Oil (and Refining) Company grew in market share of the Midwest.

By 1930, White Eagle became an attractive acquisition for Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony). Through further acquisitions, mergers and name changes, Socony became Mobil Oil Corporation. All the while, the Augusta Refinery continued to grow.

From a 7,000 barrel per day capacity in 1924 and a crew of fewer than 100, the refinery expanded in the '60s to a peak capacity of more than 50,000 barrels per day and more than 500 employees, producing numerous grades of gasoline and distillates and a fine line of asphalts.

During its heyday, the refinery boasted the tallest structure in Kansas a state of the art Thermofor Catalytic Cracking (TCC or catcracker) unit that stood some 300 feet tall.

El Dorado, Kan., Area Supervisor Will Prater recalls the windy night he climbed all the way to the top of the catcracker - twice - to replace the 100 watt light bulb used to alert pilots of the structure.

"It was a Friday night and I couldn't find anyone else to do it," he says. "I climbed up the first time, found the light fixture, removed the old bulb and thought I had it made. My hands were so shaky that I dropped the new bulb and had to climb down for a second. The wind must have been 40 miles per hour, and the top 25 feet of the catcracker was a single-rung metal ladder."

Many townspeople turned out to see the bottom third of the TCC unit crumble. The top two-thirds - all steel - had been removed years before. Local firefighters rappelled the sky-tall structure and staged mock fires in other buildings on site.

Demolition crews had to dynamite the TCC unit twice before it fell.
Notice the number of steel rods which support the unit's leg.

Most Augustans have ties to the old Mobil refinery. It put bread and butter on a lot of tables. The annual payroll brought millions of dollars into the community. It was common for refinery employees to serve on the school board or in city management - even as mayor.

In 1983, Mobil shut down the facility and we acquired it as part of a package that included several hundred miles of pipeline and terminalling facilities.

Our original intent was to sell the refinery intact but after several years of marketing efforts, we contented ourselves with selling individual components.

Coastal Derby operated a portion of the refinery from 1986 until this past fall - except for an 18 month period - producing unleaded gasoline from blendstocks and feedstocks (naphtha and natural gasoline).

Finally in the spring of 1992, we began demolishing the inactive portions. Williams Energy Ventures now has charge of the portion once operated by Coastal.

The demolition project was done in part to rid the refinery of potential asbestos hazard and improve the appearance of the area. The plant site is next to the downtown business district.

All told, more than 4,000 cubic yards of asbestos containing material (ACM) have been delivered to the Butler County landfill and covered by another 10,000 cubic yards of earth.

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