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Conoco announces project to expand refinery's capacity

PONCA CITY, Okla. (AP) _ Conoco Inc. plans a $27 million project to expand its refinery and anticipates another major investment to meet new clean-air standards for fuel.

The Houston-based company announced Thursday that it would boost the Ponca City refinery's capacity by 6,000 barrels of oil a day in a project that should be completed by September 2003.

The announcement came as welcome news to this northern Oklahoma city of 26,000, 2,100 of whom work for Conoco, including 600 at the refinery.

The planned merger of Bartlesville-based Phillips Petroleum Co. and Conoco has led to fears about possible job cuts.

``This is a significant project for the refinery,'' said Nick Spencer, manager of the plant. ``It's a good-news story for Ponca City.''

Members of the Ponca City Economic Development Advisory Board said the announcement indicated the refinery will continue to play a strong role in the local economy and that the jobs there are safe.

``We are going to take this refinery to the next level and make it the biggest and the best,'' board member Kelly Johnson said.

About 1,500 of Conoco's Ponca City employees work in areas unrelated to refining, such as finance, human resources, a credit card center, and a research and development department.

Staffing needs of the combined company, ConocoPhillips, which will be based in Houston, are being evaluated.

``We will likely have some (job reductions), but not necessarily in Ponca City,'' said Kenneth Ray, director of communications for the Conoco.

The refinery can process up to 190,000 barrels of oil each day and provides fuel to several major markets in the region.

At one time, Conoco employed about 4,500 people in Ponca City, Conoco's former headquarters. The company moved to Houston in the late 1970s.

City leaders have been working to diversify the community's work force during the past 10 years. In 1993, the city approved a 10-year, half-cent sales tax for economic development.

Ponca City was able to attract 2,000 new jobs, said Mark Detten, advisory board chairman.

``We're not as dependent on Conoco as we were 10 years ago,'' he said.
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