For over seven decades, the Shell Refinery in Corunna, ON, has been a staple of the Sarnia area horizon, and it continues to be an important part of the local community and economy. Business Elite Canada spoke with Shell about how it marked this special milestone in 2022.


Originally opened in 1952 under the ownership of Canadian Oil, Shell purchased the refinery in Corunna in 1963. Throughout its entire history this refinery (known as the Sarnia Manufacturing Centre) has been proud to be a part of the community—supporting direct and indirect employment and the local and provincial economy.

The Shell refinery has been a vital component to Ontario’s transportation industry for seven decades by processing up to 85,000b/d of crude oil, which is then converted and refined to help meet southern Ontario’s transportation fuel needs. The refinery also provides key base materials for chemicals and propane producers in the Sarnia area, including for the Shell Chemical plant adjacent to the refinery. The Shell Chemical plant, built in the 1970s, is a key North American producer of IsoPropyl Alcohol—a key ingredient in hand sanitizers, disinfectants, and other medical uses—which has never been more top of mind as in the 2020s.

“Now more than ever, essential services such as healthcare, food distribution, and sanitation depend on a reliable energy supply,” says Olwen Gover, Corporate Relations Advisor for Shell. “But what is less known is that our industry is also making some of the key ingredients in products that helps to slow the spread of COVID-19 such as hand sanitizers, soaps and surface cleaners. The Shell Chemical plant is a key North American producer of IsoPropyl Alcohol—a key ingredient in hand sanitizers, disinfectants, and other medical uses.”

In 2020, Shell stepped up to help the Canadian healthcare sector by donating 125,000 litres of isopropyl alcohol, or IPA, to the Government of Canada free of charge. IPA makes up about half the content of hand-sanitizing liquids, and Shell’s donation is approximately enough to create nearly one million 12-oz bottles of hand sanitizer for use in hospitals and medical facilities.

70 years in Sarnia

“70 years is a big milestone, and we are proud to be a part of the fabric of the heritage of our company in the community,” says GM Kevin McMahon. “Our people have always lived, worked, and played in the community in which we work and we continue to put in the time and effort to ensure the community is better for having us in it.”

To mark their 70-year milestone, Shell hosted a number of events internally and externally, including a Community Thank You event and a Community Open House. Additionally, in 2022 the Shell Refinery executed the largest Maintenance Turnaround in its 70-year history which culminated in a substantial investment in the site and local community, and which will keep the site running efficiently and effectively for years to come. For this event, approximately 700 craft were hired through local halls and there was significant spend with local vendors for materials, services, pre-fabricated equipment, and more.

Shell Canada donated $1,000 per incident-free day Turnaround Day. “This long but safe turnaround resulted in a $116k donation to Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario (YWHO), formally known as Access Open Minds—a youth centre that offers low-barrier access for young people seeking mental health and substance use support, primary care, social services, and more.”

Powering Positivity

Part of Shell’s ongoing commitment to sustainable development is a continued support to Lambton County community groups including United Way, Lambton College, St. Clair Township, Bluewater Health, First Nations initiatives, and a number of grassroots environmental projects. Employees who regularly volunteer with community organizations are recognized by the company through their Powering Positivity program where $20 per volunteer hour is given by the company for donation to a charity of the employee’s choice.

The Powering Positivity program is a grassroots, employee-driven movement that believes in the idea of random acts of kindness and the philosophy of “paying it forward.” It is based on the belief that even small acts can make a big difference, building a more positive, healthier, and happier Canada. It is a philosophy around care for people and giving back to the communities where we live and work.

In 2022, to mark the 70-year anniversary of the refinery, the people at the Shell Manufacturing Centre in Corunna set the aspirational goal of completing 70 Powering Positivity activities over the course of the year, and they exceeded this goal.

The Sarnia Community

According to a study done by Aviseo Consulting in 2018 as contracted by the Canadian Fuels Association, operation and investment activities by the three Sarnia area refineries (Shell, Suncor, and Imperial) support 12,000 jobs each year in Ontario, including 1,200 direct refinery jobs. From these activities, $4.8 billion in added value is recorded each year for Ontario’s economy, comparable in size to the crop and animal production sector and the wood and paper manufacturing sector in Ontario.

Currently, Shell has approximately 380 direct refinery and chemical plant employees. Depending on the day and the activities going on at site, there are approximately the same number of contractors on site.

“Our Social Investment focus is to address social issues,” continues Gover. Shell defines social investment (SI) as the contribution to communities with the aim off providing lasting benefits to society and to Shell. It provides measurable and long-lasting benefits through support of locally relevant projects that are well grounded in the local socioeconomic environment and collaborative with external stakeholders, including communities.”

“Shell believes in Social Investment because it gives back to the communities in which we operate—making them better for having us in them,” says Gover. “This supports our aim of being a good neighbour wherever we work and live.”

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