Calumet Montana oil refinery in Great Falls to become top US producer of sustainable jet fuel 
February 4, 2023
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  • The Calumet Montana oil refinery in Great Falls has completed the multi-million dollar expansion project it began more than a year ago and is now poised to become the largest producer of sustainable aviation fuel in the United States, if not the world. 

    That promising news was revealed by Calumet Montana plant manager Carlos Centurion on Wednesday, following a tour of the refinery with Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte. 

    “Reducing air transportation carbon emissions is one of the most challenging goals, not only for the U.S. but worldwide,” Centurion said. “In response to that challenge … we are going to begin supplying sustainable aviation fuels this spring.” 

    Calumet announced last November that a refinery conversion project begun in January 2022 was completed in October, and that the $90 million project would enable Calumet to become a major player in emerging national and international markets for bio-based diesel and sustainable aviation fuel. 

    “Late last year we began producing renewable diesel, which leads to reduction in overall carbon emissions from tailpipes,” Centurion said before a gathering of refinery employees. “It’s running well right now and we have future plans for the expansion of that, as we debug and continue to add equipment to that side of the plant.” 

    S&P Global, a financial forecasting company, predicts the demand for bio-based diesel in the United States and Canada will jump from 1.9 billion gallons a year in 2022 to 2.9 billion gallons per year by 2025. Last November the trade magazine Biobased Diesel Daily forecast that when at full production the refinery at Great Falls would be capable of producing 12,000 barrels of bio-based diesel a day. 

    What was new at Wednesday’s presentation was news of Calumet Montana’s imminent entry into the sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry. 

    “We’re in the midst of starting that up — finishing a little bit of the construction,” Centurion said of the SAF production facility. “We’ll be starting that up in the next couple of months. We expect to become one of the largest, if not the largest sustainable aviation fuel producer in the world, right here in Great Falls.” 

    Centurion explained that SAF is created using animal fat and vegetable oil, and that some of those base ingredients will almost certainly come from ag producers in Montana and the surrounding region. Montana Renewables General Manager Ron Colwell, said biofuels like the ones produced at Calumet frequently use crops such as canola, camelina, soybeans and corn as part of the production process. 

    According to Centurion, refinery expansion projects in both 2016 and 2022 have more than doubled Calumet Montana’s workforce at the refinery in Great Falls in the last seven years. 

    “Back in 2016 we had about 100 full-time employees,” he said. “We’re now approaching 240 and climbing, with a large economic impact not only in Great Falls but for the entire region.” 

    “Because of this latest renewable project, we’ve hired about 40 full-time employees,” Centurion continued. “I’d say 80% of them are local and 20% are people who lived here at one time and moved away because the jobs were somewhere else. They’ve come back because the jobs are back here now.” 

    It’s a point the governor was quick to seize upon. 

    “One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of is, over the past two years the private sector has created 31,000 new jobs in Montana,” Gianforte said of his first two years in office. “That’s more than has ever been created in any two-year period in the state’s history.” 

    “Calumet’s presence here impacts 4,000 livelihoods across the state, which is tremendous,” he continued, “but all of their innovative leadership and job creation would not be possible without a stable, predictable regulatory process that they can rely on. Our Red Tape Relief efforts are focused on creating that reliable environment for business.” 

    A large portion of Gianforte’s gubernatorial election campaign in 2020 focused on job creation and regulatory reform. The governor cited that emphasis as an important component in bringing the Calumet expansion project to Great Falls. 

    “As much as our tax cuts and reforms help hardworking Montanans, we recognize our states regulatory schemes are really a wet blanket on business,” he said during a speech in the Calumet Montana maintenance shop. “That’s why on my second day in office I signed my first executive order for the Red Tape Relief Task Force.” 

    The task force is being led by Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras, who is a resident of Great Falls. 

    “She’s worked with each state agency, we’ve gone through all the regulations in the state, to roll back and repeal unnecessary regulations,” Gianforte said of Juras. “She worked with industry stakeholders and incorporated widespread public input into that process and their results are really clear. Right now, because of that work, we have about 170 red tape relief bills from the legislature, and many of them have already passed from the House or the Senate.” 

    Gianforte credited his administration’s success in cutting regulatory red tape for facilitating the speed in constructing a biofuels plant in Great Falls. 

    Praise for the Red Tape Relief Task Force is not universal. Critics have described it as a “one size fits all” approach to occupational licensing, and warn that while the wholesale elimination of diverse state regulations may be good for business, it’s bad for environmental preservation, worker safety and business transparency. 

    At the refinery’s maintenance shop on Wednesday, there was nothing but praise for the Governor’s efforts to eliminate “burdensome regulations.” 

    “The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) helped streamline the existing environmental permit process for the renewable fuels project,” Centurion said of the state agency’s efforts to smooth the way for Calumet. “It was a very collaborative effort that resulted in one the most efficient permits anywhere.” 

    “The speed of the permitting process is what allowed us to get to the market sooner and it allowed a streamlined project schedule,” he added “There was definitely a cost savings with an expedited schedule that would have been, in some states, a multi-year process to get permits. It didn’t happen here. It is the best that I’ve seen.” 

    Calumet Montana and Montana Renewables are divisions of parent company Calumet Specialty Products, headquartered in Indianapolis. Calumet Specialty Products produces oils, solvents, fuels and asphalt at plants across the U.S. gulf coast, the Midwest, in Montana and Mexico.