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Once enough gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel was flowing to meet immediate needs, teams turned to the refinery. Axness worked in an incident response room dispatching engineers to make inspections and repairs wherever they were needed. “It felt a little like a call center,” he said. “I was lead for all engineering. I sat right next to operations and

mechanical and it was basically find out what needs to get done and find someone in the right discipline who wasn’t dealing with flooding at home and get them there.” During the several weeks it took to get the refinery back up, off-duty ExxonMobil employees volunteered with the American Red Cross and other relief efforts. In Beaumont,

where the storm knocked out the city’s water system, engineers from the offline Beaumont refinery used their expertise to help the city build eight temporary pipelines to pump water from the Neches River. By the time the hurricane hit, Axness had worked nine years in the oil industry. He began his career with an internship through the University’s co-op program with ExxonMobil in Houston. “I enjoyed the work and the team and challenges, so I decided to come full time,” he said. He’s always worked with “fixed equipment,” which includes valves, pipes, storage tanks, reactors, distillation towers, and pretty much anything that doesn’t have rotating parts. The oil industry also divides itself into upstream, midstream, and downstream operations. Upstream explores and drills for crude oil or natural gas. Midstream focuses on transporting it, in pipelines or trucks.

Jay Axness worked at the ExxonMobil Baytown Refinery during Hurricane Harvey. The petrochemical facility, which produces 580,000 barrels of crude oil daily, was shut down after the hurricane.

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I N V EN T I N G TO M O RR OW

Photo by Brian McFatridge/ExxonMobil

Downstream, which is where Axness works, takes crude and turns it into something useful, “whether it’s motor gasoline or jet fuel or the chemical products that go into making plastic or rubber or wax,” said Axness. “People don’t realize it, but almost anything you use on a daily basis is impacted by oil and gas.” Axness’ regular duties involved overseeing fixed equipment during scheduled maintenance “turnarounds,” when a portion of the refinery is shut down for inspection and repairs. Restarting Baytown after Harvey involved similar tasks and long hours. But being part of the broader recovery effort made it feel different.

Inventing Tomorrow Fall 2018  

In this water-themed issue, students and faculty at the College of Science and Engineering use the latest research techniques to study water...

Inventing Tomorrow Fall 2018  

In this water-themed issue, students and faculty at the College of Science and Engineering use the latest research techniques to study water...