A spokesperson for Continental Refining Company (CRC) said the total current workforce of 45 employees at the refinery and its affiliated trucking company will be reduced to 15 during a two-stage transition phase lasting up to 18 months. The refinery stopped buying crude oil today (Friday).

Missy Shorey, president and CEO of Shorey Public Relations, said Wednesday four layoffs at the refinery will occur this month and another 15 positions will be vacated in March. In addition, 11 positions will be eliminated at CRC’s subsidiary, Continental Trucking Company. Most of the positions are transportation and administrative, Shorey said.

At its employment peak early last year, CRC, formerly Somerset Refinery, had 58 jobs at the refinery and six jobs at its transport company. Demetrios Haseotes formed a Somerset-based company and purchased Somerset Refinery in December 2011 after it had been closed nearly three years. Refining operations restarted in January 2013

CRC’s transition period, announced Monday, is in two stages. The first stage, estimated to take two months, is an idling and assessment stage. Results will determine length and scope of a second phase comprised of significant capital improvements including electrical upgrades, crude distillation unit replacement, hydrotreater upgrades and connection to a crude oil pipeline. Phase 2 is estimated to take between eight and 16 months.

The workforce reduction, called by CRC “serious consequences” of the transition period, “ … is regrettable but a necessary step to improve reliability and efficiency for the long term,” the company said.

CRC says it has invested $25 million in its Somerset operation and indicates its future is bright. Shorey, in an e-mail to the Commonwealth Journal, said “ Upon completion of the capital improvements projects, Continental Refining Company intends to increase hiring to meet production demands with streamlined operations and enhanced reliability as well as resuming purchase of crude oil in the region. Only at this point will Continental Refining Company be able to determine the number of potential additional positions needed.”

Continental Refining Company, according to Somerset Refinery statistics, can refine 5,500 barrels of crude oil a day at full operation. It has a storage capacity of 107,000 barrels of crude and refined oil products at its location on 93 acres off Monticello Street. Refining companies do not publicize production information, Shorey said.

Somerset Refinery since the 1930s was an economic engine in Somerset, Pulaski County and the region. It was a landmark, a place of stable employment.

CRC is one of only 150 refineries in the United States and one of two refineries in Kentucky. It is the only refinery for southern Kentucky crude oil supply – closest alternative is more than 170 miles away.