Key milestones

On 18 March 1954, the Geelong refinery became the first of Australia’s post-war refineries to come on stream. Its commissioning sent ripples of excitement throughout the Geelong community and was widely applauded as a major development in strengthening Australia’s industrial capacity. More than 1000 people from 14 countries worked on its construction. World-renowned photographer, Helmut Newton, was commissioned by Shell to photograph the project.



Shell Australia announces it will construct an oil refinery in Geelong.

Shell Australia announces it will construct an oil refinery in Geelong


Plans under way to construct prefabricated housing on 60 acres of land close to the refinery (the area rapidly grew into the Shell housing estate).



Shell Geelong Refinery is opened by the Governor-General, Field Marshal Sir William Slim.



The Geelong refinery’s residual catalytic cracking unit (RCCU – cat cracker) starts up.

The Geelong refinery’s residual catalytic cracking unit (RCCU – cat cracker) starts up.



New plants are built including the detergent alkylate plant, the lubricant oil plant, hydrotreater 1, hydrocarbon solvents plant, a third crude distillation unit, a second platformer and the vapona resin formulation plant. 

New plants are built



The refinery’s mogas alkylation plant, polypropylene plant and splitter are built as well as a continuous catalytic reformer.



The Western Port, Altona, Geelong (WAG) pipeline is finalised.



Geelong Refinery is connected to the State’s power grid.



Geelong Refinery’s first female operator starts and unleaded petrol is introduced into the Australian market.



The refinery is connected to the Barwon Water trade waste system.



The refinery commissions its new residue catalytic cracking unit (RCCU). At the time it was one of the largest construction projects undertaken in Victoria for many years.



The refinery’s hydro-desulphurisation (HDS) facility is completed, enabling the refinery to produce ultra-low sulphur (10ppm) diesel fuel.



Benzene saturation unit (Bensat) completed. As a result of the production of low-benzene fuel, benzene emissions from the Geelong Refinery dropped by more than a quarter.



The refinery’s Water Master Plan Project is completed, providing a substantial improvement in the way the refinery manages its water resources. The plan results in a saving of 300,000 litres of fresh water a day and improved treatment of water leaving the refinery. Upgrades to the RCCU (cat cracker) also reduce particulate emissions.



Shell Australia and Barwon Water sign an agreement to construct the Northern Water Plant (NWP). The Barwon Water-owned and operated NWP will recycle sewage from homes and trade waste from Shell Geelong refinery. The ‘Class A’ water will be used by the refinery, saving approximately 5% of Geelong’s total water consumption.



April 4, Royal Dutch Shell announces that the refinery was for sale.

April 30, Northern Water Plant begins operation.

Northern Water Plant begins operation



February 21, Royal Dutch Shell announces the sale of the refinery as part of the broader sale of Shell’s Australian downstream assets to Vitol.

August 13, Viva Energy Australia Group Ltd begins operations of the downstream business including Geelong refinery as an operating facility. Viva Energy commits to investing $1B in the business over five years, including a third in the refinery.



100 million litre crude tank built, the largest crude oil storage tank in Australia.

100 million litre crude tank built



Viva Energy starts manufacturing very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), the first low-sulphur fuel oil to be produced in Australasia.



Viva Energy announces a strategic vision to establish Geelong as an ‘Energy Hub’ with future energy development projects that could be co-located with the refinery.

Historical photographs courtesy of The University of Melbourne Archives, photos by Helmut Newton, circa 1950’s.