08 September 2008

Shell shuts down a Bukom refinery unit 'due to technical faults'

Just how big is Shell in Singapore and what goes on at the Pulau Bukom refinery?
Aerial photo of the Pulau Bukom refinery from the Shell website.

I wondered about some issues after reading today's Reuters article carried in the Straits Times. (There was no coverage of this issue in any of our other local papers, not even the Business Times).

From the report, Shell's two other Bukom units are running at about 90%. The unit that was shut down was earlier already "running at 70-80% since its restart from maintenance last month, in part due to weak margins".

The report also noted that "
Last month, some oil refiners in Asia cut or were planning to cut crude processing rates, following similar moves by Western peers, as high fuel prices hit demand and pressured margins."

No further details as "a Shell spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment".

Are there living reefs near Pulau Bukom?
Yes, in fact, Pulau Bukom is flanked by two of our favourite shores.Our fragile shores: industries next to our reefs
Fringed with living corals and swaying palms, Pulau Hantu lies just a few hundred metres opposite Pulau Bukom.Pulau Hantu is a favourite dive spot for locals and a group of dedicated volunteers called the Hantu Bloggers conduct guided dives there regularly.
Ship spewing black smoke
The magnificent seagrass meadows, reefs and marine habitats of Cyrene Reefs lie on the other side of Pulau Bukom.

In 2005, a submerged reef near Pulau Bukom called Terumbu Bayan was reclaimed for expansion of the Shell Bukom refinery. Here's more about the reclamation.

What goes on at Pulau Bukom?
from the Shell website:
"Shell's Bukom refinery is today the largest Shell refinery in the world in terms of crude distillation capacity, making Singapore a key regional supply and trading centre for the Shell Group in the East. Some 90 percent of Bukom's products are exported to countries in the region and beyond."

"Shell’s largest petrochemical production and export centre in the Asia Pacific region. Shell’s investments in the Singapore petrochemicals industry include a polyols plant, a joint-venture styrene monomer and propylene oxide plant, and other joint ventures."

"Singapore is the fuel hub for the Marine business in the East, supplying bunker and lubricants in the Asia Pacific region. It is the 2nd largest delivery centre in the Shell world for marine fuels, and the largest for marine lubricants."

"In July 2006, Shell announced its plans to proceed with the construction of a new world-scale ethylene cracker on Bukom Island and a new world-scale Mono-Ethylene Glycol (MEG) plant on Jurong Island."
Shell provides a tour of the Bukom refinery
From the website, the objectives of the tour are:
1. Provides students and teachers information on (a) Pulau Bukom refinery complex (b) the refining processes and (c) a general overview of the Shell Group.

2. Offers students and teachers a first hand view of what an Oil Refinery looks like.

3. Shows the students and teachers environmentally friendly processes and equipment not usually seen by the public.

4. This tour is aimed primarily at students from Secondary 3 on and from Junior Colleges who are science students and those who have learned about fractional distillation.

Tour Programme

1. Introductory briefing: This presentation highlights the significance of Pulau Bukom and its brief history of Bukom. It then provides a general overview of the Shell Group and its activities globally.

2. The Bukom Video - The video gives audiences a quick peep into Shell activities in oil and chemicals in Singapore. The rest of the video provides some historical highlights of Bukom's history and descriptions of its facilities, operations, processes and environmental management.

3. The Oil Video - This video gives useful information on the oil industry: from the formation of oil, E&P and manufacturing (processes including distillation and conversion).

4. Explanation on products - With the aid of the product sample display board, students are taken through all the various fractions from bitumen to LPG with elaboration on processes and rationale for conversion processes.

5. Q&A Session - students are encouraged to raise questions pertaining to the industry and energy.

6. Bus Tour of the Refinery - The entire tour is by bus with no stops and taking about 25 minutes. The tour starts from Timor along the sourthern coastline past CD3, Kecil, Ular, to Barat to see the LPG spheres, sulphur storage, wharves, bitumen storage and back to the Bukom Club, passing the Fire Dept, Medical Dept, Marine Dept and the Learning Centre.
What goes on in a refinery?
The Shell website also has an animation of oil and gas: from exploration to refiningRefineries produce stuff we use every day...

As well as other stuff we don't really want...
Global waming in action
This was the Bukom refinery on a nice sunny day.

What about sustainability?
"Shell is committed to a business strategy that generates profits while contributing to the well-being of the planet and its people. As a major investor in Singapore, it is fully committed to Sustainable Development, integrating the three essential elements of sustainability – economic, social and environmental and balancing long and short-term priorities. In the process, the needs of the present generation are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Activities listed in support of this argument include ...
  • "road safety among children, the teaching of entrepreneurial skills among Singapore’s youth"
  • "support of the arts"
More links


  1. Hi there.. reading this post of facts, I have some personal opinions to share.. It is fact that the Refinery is long establised on Bukom island, and so has the reefs around Hantu. Depsite the close proximity of a fully operational petrochemical plant, we still see some wonderful marine life and relatively clean waters around Hantu. This is almost as good as it can get. Not forgetting Pulau Semakau just nearby.. another facinating location. In contrast to places like Sembawang (Outside SAFYC all the way down to the causeway) where I used to do water sports for a good 7 years.. Dead fishes, plastic bags, CDs and so much more carelessly discarded waste were just everywhere.. Falling into the water then, just sucks! Perhaps, this presents a good chance of further learning of waste disposal management at Bukom.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I heartily agree that we do have wonderful marine life in our Southern Islands. The marine life at Cyrene Reef is particularly surprising.

    Can it be better? Can it be worse? I don't have the answers, but I think it's good to ask the questions and keep a watch on things.

    Where does marine litter come from? What are the facts on this?

    A large group of volunteers involved in International Coastal Cleanup annually undertake the task of gathering facts on marine litter.

    Last year's data collection suggests 49.95% of the litter came from "Shoreline and Recreational Activities".

    "Dumping Activities" made up 1.45%.

    This suggests (possibly, and it's just my conjecture) that shores accessible to lots of people for recreational purposes (like Sembawang) are likely to have a larger trash load?

    This year's ICCS data collection effort is coming up soon on 20 Sep.

    Shell on Bukom I am sure is very scrupulous about their trash.

  3. I don't speak for Shell but I'm pretty sure they have a good waste disposal and removal system at Bukom. All the waste probably gets sent back to Singapore where it would end up at one of our incineration plants.

    In fact all waste generated at the Southern islands should make it back to mainland Singapore for processing before incineration and then filling up at Semakau.

    Most, if not all of the plastic bags and other debris would probably come from coastal activities. Businesses close to the shore are also frequently to blame...eg. kelongs, seafood restaurants, kampungs. People here unfortunately have not learned to throw their trash in the right place. To them the sea is an efficient waste collector.

    Ask yourself what you can do to help reduce the problem.



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