Utica Condensate Fractionator

Client: Marathon Petroleum Co.
Location: Canton, Ohio


We provided engineering, procurement and construction management services on this effort to integrate a light tight oil fractionation tower into the Canton, Ohio, refinery.

The Utica Fractionator project presents a strong model of innovative use of existing technology. Originally built as a refinery to refine crude oil into gasoline, the facility underwent a metamorphosis to refine a significant percentage of light tight oil. The successful project was constructed in the middle of the operating facility.

When critical design changes were identified due to existing conditions, the layout was revised and the already fast-track schedule was significantly altered to meet the original completion date. Project activities were compressed and overlapped, and contractors worked double shifts for several months. Construction was completed on schedule, and the unit was commissioned in less time than anticipated. Key to the modification was the fractionator tower itself. Original design called for an existing, out-of-service vessel to be retrofitted and reused. Midway through engineering, Marathon Petroleum inspectors identified material deficiencies which made the existing tower unsuitable for continued service.

A new fractionator tower had to be fabricated, shipped and brought on-site without impacting the fast-track schedule. The new tower introduced several constructability challenges that had to be addressed. Vertical clearances of less than one inch under existing structures were encountered while moving the tower into the refinery. The crane itself, which lifted the tower in place on its foundation, had to be constructed in the air, above existing facilities. This difficult crane erection technique had never been used at the refinery until this project.


In recent years, the production of light tight oil, also referred to as condensate, from the Utica Shale formation has seen rapid growth in the U.S., bringing a radical shift in the operation of U.S. refiners. It has also delivered the opportunity for the U.S. to produce more oil than is imported for the first time in over two decades.


The complexity of design and construction of a project of this nature cannot be overstated. First, the project used a creative approach to debottlenecking an existing crude unit by adding a condensate fractionator in parallel with the existing atmospheric crude tower. This allowed the lightest fractions of the condensate to bypass the existing atmospheric heater and fractionation tower. Additionally, the condensate fractionator used steam from the refinery in lieu of a new fired heater, thereby using the existing utility infrastructure more efficiently. The net effect of this process design was to allow the Canton refinery to efficiently process the local Utica condensate.

Secondly, construction in an operating refinery is always more complex than in other facilities. Construction contractors are required to pass extensive background and quality tests before they are approved to work. Rigorous planning and daily work permits are required to comply with refinery safety procedures. The project location was adjacent to operating units. The project required numerous connections to existing vessels, piping, and electrical facilities, each of which had to be safely evacuated for the work.