Geelong Viva Energy refinery chief executive Thys Heyms hears talk about the departure of Ford and Alcoa from the city’s manufacturing landscape.

He also hears the same about the former Shell plant but stresses it isn’t about to go, it’s about to grow.

Mr Heyms has spent 28 years working in the oil industry and has joined Viva Corio from managing a BP refinery in Rotterdam, Netherlands, with certain intention.

“I’m an extremely experienced refinery manager, I’ve run two refineries before,” he says.

“I know the game of refining very well and in that sense I think I have an insight into what needs to be done to make it successful and that is absolutely my intent.

“I’m not here to close the Geelong refinery, I’m here to make the Geelong refinery successful.”

Viva Energy Australia took ownership of the 60 year-old Shell refinery in August last year and immediately pledged $150m in major maintenance work.

That work will start during plant shutdowns across the next two years, which Mr Heyms says should be interpreted as a statement of faith.

“Absolutely I think that’s the way it should be seen. By buying the business, that’s been a vote of confidence in the business from the shareholders of Viva and for sure the investment … is a statement of faith and a vote of confidence in the future of the business that we can make it viable and long term.”

Viva Geelong employs about 400 staff and 350 contractors and injects more than $200 million into Geelong region’s economy each year.

Processing up to 130 barrels of crude a day it meets 55 per cent of Victorian and 10 per cent of Australian fuel needs and also provides about 50 per cent of the volume through Geelong Port.

Mr Heyms outlined the refinery’s challenges and objectives during a presentation at a Geelong Business Network breakfast this week.

Speaking after the breakfast he said focus would be on performance, production and productivity working towards building sustainable operations in Geelong.

He said production would focus on making the most of plant capacity.

“As an example we have more bitumen manufacturing capacity than what we’re currently using, we have more hydrocarbons solvents manufacturing capacity than what we are currently using, we have more avgas … capacity there than what we are currently using.

“Demand needs to be there and we need to make the sales but if we can we’d like to increase production.”

Mr Heyms said focusing on efficiencies “may change our labour profile”.

“But if it has a small impact it will all be in service of preserving ultimately the business and the vast bulk of the jobs,” he said.

“I would say that we’re working on removing one shift position at the moment, without any job losses, just for efficiency but I don’t have at this point any great scheme of massive job losses.

“We will continue to look incrementally at every opportunity to improve our efficiency and effectiveness.”

Mr Heyms said Viva would be dedicated to environmental safety and preventing spills.

He denied the company had attempted to cover up spills of 3500 and 6300 litres into Corio Bay last year.

“We pretty much the following day talked about it at a community advisory panel as soon as we became aware,” he said.

“So there’s no talk of trying to keep it secret and it also needs to be contextually put in a trend of massive improvement in our environmental performance of the site since around the turn of the century when we were having 200 to 300 environmental exceedances per year, and we had four last year.”

Extracted in full from Geelong Advertiser.