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U.S. BP president raises concern about Cherry Point

John Mingé, who grew up near Deming and attended Mount Baker High School and later Washington State University, now handles the U.S. operations for BP as chairman and president of BP America Inc. He’s seen here Thursday in Bellingham.
John Mingé, who grew up near Deming and attended Mount Baker High School and later Washington State University, now handles the U.S. operations for BP as chairman and president of BP America Inc. He’s seen here Thursday in Bellingham. eabell@bhamherald.com

John Mingé is proof that working your way up the ladder in jobs you enjoy can take you to some amazing places.

Mingé, who grew up near Deming and attended Mount Baker High School and Washington State University, now handles the U.S. operations for BP as chairman and president of BP America Inc. It’s a career path he never thought he’d have; he imagined he might be a drilling manager for a company one day. While Mingé feels fortunate to be in the right spot at the right time, he thinks what helped him was making sure he loved whatever job he had at the time and focusing on the things he could control.

“It’s been a fascinating experience for me, but to do this you have to love to change,” Mingé said.

He’s been in his current position since 2013, working during what has been a challenging time for the company and the oil industry. Along with dealing with the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP and the rest of the industry continue to adjust to a market oversupply of oil and low prices.

Mingé was in Whatcom County on Nov. 17 to talk about a local concern he has, which is the recent moratorium on the shipping of unrefined fossil fuels through Cherry Point and potential changes to the Comprehensive Plan regarding that area. The moratorium does not affect the BP Cherry Point facility and other existing operations in the area, but Mingé is concerned it could be a first step in removing BP Cherry Point and other industry facilities from the area.

“I’ve seen this movie play out before,” Mingé said. “I worry about what the long-term goal is for that area. We’ve invested $1 billion in the last 14 years improving Cherry Point’s environmental standards and making it more efficient.”

Concern about the moratorium

Mingé said the moratorium and potential changes to the Comprehensive Plan make it difficult to plan for the future. He spoke to community leaders to raise awareness of BP’s concerns.

Hindering the existing businesses at Cherry Point is not the intent of the moratorium or of changes to the Comprehensive Plan for Cherry Point, said Whatcom County Council member Carl Weimer.

“I don’t think that’s a reality at all,” Weimer said.

The intent is to make sure the County Council has more of a heads-up before any additional industries go into the area, Weimer said. He noted that plans now can be developed without the council knowing much about them until far into the process. The intent of the moratorium is to make sure unrefined oil isn’t just shipped out to China without studying the impact of such a decision, he said.

One of the meetings for Mingé was with Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws. Louws said one of his jobs as an administrator is to make sure BP succeeds in Whatcom County while making sure it is environmentally friendly and safe for employees and residents.

“For Whatcom County to micromanage it (Cherry Point) sends a message that we are not as business-friendly,” Louws said. “If that’s a message we want to send, we have to live with the consequences. There is a definite balance we need to maintain with employers.”

Future of Cherry Point

In addition to a workforce of about 800 people, BP Cherry Point also employs about 500 contractors for a variety of jobs, including repair and maintenance work. With its living-wage salaries, the refinery is a significant economic driver locally.

Even though it is 45 years old, it is one of the youngest refineries in the U.S. It processes up to 234,000 barrels of crude oil a day, up from 110,000 barrels a day before improvements made in recent years.

“I see Cherry Point as a high-performing refinery with a long future ahead,” Mingé said.

Where Cherry Point gets its oil has been changing. With Alaska crude oil production declining in recent years, BP Cherry Point has brought in more oil by train. Mingé said the company has been working closely with BNSF Railway on safety and is using rail cars with newer safety features ahead of federal deadlines.

Growing up around Deming

While Mingé wasn’t sure early on what he would choose as a career path, being in Whatcom County helped.

Mount Baker High School had good teachers, particularly in math and science, which helped, he said. While attending Washington State University to get a degree in mechanical engineering, he spent his summers making money working at the Bellingham Georgia Pacific mill.

That led to what is now a 32-year career at BP, beginning as a drilling engineer in the Gulf of Mexico. Other positions include president of BP in Indonesia, head of BP’s Asia Pacific Unit and president of exploration and production for Vietnam and China.

Where the industry is going

Mingé entered the industry in the early 1980s, a time of job cutbacks. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the industry had a bit of a growth period, he said.

A decline in oil pricesfrom about $100 a barrel in 2013 to about $45 recently has brought another round of challenges. Mingé said he expects oil prices to remain around this level for the near term, but the company will continue to invest in order to remain competitive.

“The goal is to maintain a high level of performance. That way we can compete for a long time,” Mingé said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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