An enormous infrastructure in motion

On 12 August 2021, the first steps were taken in the dismantling of the Tamoil refinery in Collombey-Muraz, in the Chablais region of Valais canton. Once the disassembly operation is complete, by the end of 2024, the site will be repurposed for environmentally friendly light industry. BG is responsible for supervising the site, in compliance with regulatory provisions. BG Magazine interviewed Tamoil directors Stéphane Trachsler and Pier Luigi Colombo.

How and why was the decision to dismantle the refinery taken?

Stéphane Trachsler: In 2015, Tamoil’s shareholders decided, on economic grounds, to cease refinery operations. The authorities gave us five years to analyse the situation and find a buyer. More than 50 interested companies approached us, but discussions unfortunately ended without any concrete results. Then a German company, Aiotec GmbH, offered to buy the units. It is currently overseeing the dismantling of the production facilities, which have been systematically checked and maintained since operations ceased so that they can be restarted, and reselling them to its customers. E. Flückiger AG, a company based in Rothrist, is responsible for dismantling the tanks.

What is different about this disassembly project?

Pier Luigi Colombo: Around 15 refineries have ceased operating in Europe since 2010. The Collombey refinery is one of the few that have been dismantled for reassembly in another location. Dismantling will be carried out in three stages: first the 54 tanks will be disassembled, then the production units, representing 90 km of pipes and 30,000 tonnes of steel. And finally, the buildings and chimneys will be dismantled. Site clean-up will be completed by 2028 at the latest. This is an extremely complex project, because of the vast amount of equipment and parts, which must be precisely catalogued then transported to the right place.

And what solution have you come up with to manage this complexity?

Pier Luigi Colombo: The buyer, Aiotec GmbH, used BIM (Building Information Modelling) to map each part. This took two months, during which time each room and instrument was assigned a QR code for identification purposes. This was a huge operation, involving the installation of more than 100,000 codes.

What are the societal and environmental challenges? How will you respond?

Stéphane Trachsler: We have always taken our social and environmental responsibilities seriously. When we stopped our refining ac-tivities, we did a full soil analysis, which revealed that only a very small area – less than 2% – ultimately required remediation. This shows that we had applied good industrial practice with regard to hydrocarbons: the impact is small in relation to the operating period. At the end of 2016, the federal authorities declared that the site was no longer dangerous and that it now complied with the Federal Ordinance on Major Accidents (OPAM).

Pier Luigi Colombo: In terms of our social responsibility, when the refinery business was shut down, we negotiated a good redundancy plan with the unions and employee representatives. As our employees undergo regular and thorough training, 80% of them quickly found new work.

What is BG’s role in this connection?

Pier Luigi Colombo: BG’s role is to supervise the site in terms of processes, organisation and regulations. BG has to ensure that Aiotec and Flückiger are operating in accordance with all regulatory provisions, in addition to the specific checks they conduct as prime contractors. In practice, BG’s work consists of selectively checking documents and the execution of the work.

Stéphane Trachsler: Safety and the environment are particularly important to us. The authorities required environmental monitoring of the project to minimise risk, and so we turned to BG, which is familiar with the refinery, having implemented several projects there since 2009. We particularly appreciate the professionalism and independence of their engineers.

Is there a specific sustainable and/or innovative dimension to this project? What will happen to the land freed up?

Stéphane Trachsler: We have drawn up a roadmap, the main idea of which is to rehabilitate the site in a sustainable way. In order to move forward, we have commissioned an urban planner to design an area where people can work, with convenient access and coordinated development by sector of activity. This should be complemented by nature areas where people can play sports and relax. The site is to be resolutely future-oriented and will thus host light industry, not heavy industry as in the past. A new railway station is planned for Collombey and we have included this in our plans for future employees. The development is being carried out in coordination with the municipality, with which we have an ex-cellent relationship.

Pier Luigi Colombo: We have turned something negative for the environment into something positive, modern and forward-looking, thereby giving the region a new lease on life.

This project is managed by several women: is the engineering profession becoming more feminine?

Pier Luigi Colombo: Indeed, several women are working on this site, including at BG, where the project manager is a lady we’ve been collaboratively working with for over a decade. Tamoil also employ a large number of female engineers in key technical positions. We have found that women often seem to have greater environmental awareness than men. They can be more imaginative, more creative, and more innovative in their thinking, which is a positive thing. Further, women seem to bring a touch of finesse that is sometimes lacking in a man’s world.

(Article taken from BG Magazine 2022, updated version on the site)