Petrojam: Fueling Jamaica’s Prospects

As a country without any mineral wealth, Jamaica has always had to box clever when it came to its oil and gas requirements. The fact that it has been able to do so has in large part been due to the tireless work conducted by Petrojam Limited, Jamaica’s only oil refinery. The pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the consequent spike in fuel prices was just the latest time that Petrojam has had to go the extra mile to ensure Jamaica’s energy security.

Petrojam now celebrates 40 years of fueling the Jamaican economy. In that time, the company has passed a number of important milestones and in 2023, it continues to set itself new standards, the latest of which is to become a best-in-class refinery by global standards. Business Excellence dropped in on the company headed by General Manager, Winston Watson to commemorate the anniversary, and to witness how the company continues to progress on several fronts.


A Brief History of Progress

The fact that Jamaica’s economy has undergone annualized growth of nearly 5% for the past 40 years is due in no small part to Petrojam and the initiatives it implemented along the way to improve supply reliability and grow its operations. Perhaps the first major milestone for the company came in 1986 with the foundation of Petrojam Ethanol, which exported fuel-grade ethanol to the United States, improving the country’s foreign currency reserves at a tough time.

Three years later, in 1989, the company set up in Belize, giving it a scale that made it more sustainable from a business perspective. In 1999, with one eye on Jamaica’s burgeoning tourism sector, it established Jamaica Aircraft Refueling Services (JARS) in a joint venture with Air BP, to ensure Jamaica’s airports had a secure supply of jet fuel. Tourism now accounts for over a fifth of the country’s GDP, and JARS has played a major role in making that happen.

But there have been less visible innovations at Petrojam, which may have gone unnoticed by many but have nonetheless made valuable contributions to Jamaica beginning with ensuring Jamaica’s short and long-term energy security which directly impacts the island nation’s economy.  Petrojam has also been a leader in the Caribbean for its introduction of cleaner fuels since the end of the 1990s. In the year 2000 it phased out lead in gasoline products, in 2009 it replaced MTBE with ethanol as an octane enhancer and the latest example of this came in 2019 with a soon-to-be-certified ISO 17025 a newly built world-class laboratory and in 2020, when it implemented new specifications for very low Sulphur heavy fuel oil, keeping the country in line with IMO guidelines to lower the sulphur cap on marine fuels, reducing the global limit from 3.5 percent to 0.50 percent. Petrojam is also working to complete the installation of facilities to convert heavy fuel oil (HFO) to asphalt by the second quarter of fiscal year 2023-24 which will ultimately increase monthly asphalt production to increase to 19,000b from 4,000b.


Employment and staff development

Petrojam, with its 40 years of successful operation, attributes its accomplishments to its dedicated and hard-working team of employees. The approximately 242 highly skilled individuals at Petrojam have played a pivotal role in ensuring the consistent supply of petroleum products to Jamaica. General Manager Winston Watson acknowledges their unwavering dedication, sacrifice, and commitment to keeping the country fueled.

Petrojam takes pride in its diverse and inclusive workforce, with a significant focus on promoting female representation across all levels, including management and the C-suite. The company recognizes the value of a diverse team and the different perspectives it brings to the table.

The development of staff is a top priority at Petrojam, and the company continuously invests in their growth throughout their employment journey. The employees benefit from a wide range of programs under the banner of human capacity development. From the day they join Petrojam until the day they retire, staff members have access to diverse and enriching training initiatives. These programs ensure that the employees remain up-to-date with the latest industry practices and are equipped with the skills necessary to excel in their roles.


In addition to direct employment, Petrojam also creates indirect employment opportunities through its numerous contractors and subcontractors. Former Petrojam staff members often serve as consultants, leveraging their expertise and experience to contribute to the industry's growth.


Petrojam boasts a team of highly trained personnel, including engineers, scientists, and laboratory technicians. These experts undergo internationally recognized training programs to ensure the delivery of top-quality products and services. The laboratory technicians, in particular, receive comprehensive training, both internally and externally, including overseas training with original equipment manufacturers and on-site training by overseas equipment suppliers. This ensures that Petrojam's laboratory facilities are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and that testing processes meet international standards.


To guarantee product quality, Petrojam adheres to national and international standards and best practices. The company employs a Laboratory Quality Management System, encompassing calibration, verification, and maintenance programs for testing instruments. These instruments undergo regular calibration and maintenance, and their accuracy is traceable to international standard bodies.


Petrojam's commitment to quality is further reinforced by its Statistical Quality Control program, which monitors test methods, equipment performance, and personnel competence. The laboratory also participates in an inter-laboratory Proficiency Testing Program, enabling the comparison of test results with international laboratories and driving continuous improvement.


Corporate Social Responsibility

Keenly aware of its importance to Jamaica, Petrojam also emphasizes corporate social responsibility in its operations. In its 40 years, it has gained a reputation on the island as one of the most active organisations in this sphere. Most of its capacity-building initiatives and programmes have focused on the areas of health, education, and community development, and have positively impacted the lives of thousands of Jamaicans.

In the sphere of education, Petrojam has shown a commitment to the academic development of Jamaica’s youth. Its initiatives here have included the GSAT Scholarship Programme at the Greenwich All Age School, which gives scholarships worth $40,000 to high-performing students. The company has also implemented an in-house Mentorship Programme for GSAT Awardees, which has already had over 50 beneficiaries. The company also launched the Big Brother Empowerment Initiative at St. Andrew Technical and Tivoli Gardens High Schools, aiming to support intervention strategies that enhance the academic performance and behavioral development of male students.

Petrojam also runs an annual beach clean-up, where its employees volunteer to clean up part of Jamaica’s precious coastline. In the latest clean-up, they cleared over 2,000 pounds of rubbish, primarily in the form of plastics dotted along the beach. This coincided with the introduction of a recycling program within Petrojam aimed at incentivizing better waste disposal practices for its employees and Jamaican society at large.

Strategic supply chain and contributing partners

We also take a moment to reflect on our strategic approach to supply chain management and the invaluable contributions of its partners. At the heart of our success lies a deep appreciation for the dedication and long-term commitment of our trusted suppliers, who have stood by Petrojam throughout the years, ensuring a reliable and sustainable flow of essential resources.


As a company deeply rooted in Jamaica, it places a strong emphasis on localization, giving priority to local suppliers. This not only strengthens our economy but also fosters a sense of community and collaboration by empowering local businesses, it contributes to the development of smaller SME providers, elevating Jamaica's position as an oil and gas powerhouse within the region.


Transparency is a cornerstone of Petrojam's operations. It believes in a fair and open tender process that ensures every qualified supplier has an equal opportunity to participate. By maintaining strict adherence to this process, it continues to uphold it commitment to transparency and accountability, building trust with our stakeholders.


And to guarantee the highest quality in our operations, we engage world-class suppliers and source the expertise of best-in-class consultants from around the globe. This global outlook enables it to tap into a vast pool of knowledge and innovation, ensuring that our products and services meet international standards.


As it celebrates this significant milestone, Petrojam extends its heartfelt appreciation to our dedicated partners who have been instrumental in its success. Together, they have built a strong and resilient supply chain, driving our operations forward with integrity and excellence.

Some of these include local firms like Promaneng Co., an engineering consultant in Kingston, IMCA Jamaica Limited, a local distributor of heavy equipment and machinery, and Jamaica-based welding companies such as MBC Superior Welding and Industrial Services, and D&D Welding and Equipment.

Elsewhere, the company maintains an extremely strong relationship with Barbados National Oil Company Limited, and uses the heating technology services of Koch Heat Transfer Co Limited, and Zico Incorporate F2 Burner Management Systems. Other valued suppliers include Hawkeye Electronic Security Limited and Southern Systems Limited, both of which provide Petrojam with various aspects of its technology requirements.

Last but not least, French water technology and engineering company Veolia deserves a special mention. In May 2023, Petrojam closed two three-year contracts with the French company, with a total value in excess of US$2 million, for chemical supplies and services for refinery processes and utilities. The deal represents the latest investment on Petrojam’s part in improving the environmental sustainability of its output.

The Future

As the only refinery of a small country without natural energy resources, it is difficult to overstate the importance of Petrojam to the fortunes of Jamaica. Since regaining full control of the entity in 2018, when it was partly owned by the Venezuelan government, the Petrojam’s interests and ambitions are aligned with those of Jamaica’s citizens. Its growth will be their growth; its success will be their success.

Even at the 40-year mark, the company isn’t spending too long looking backward. There is more work to be done. Its vision is to be a best-in-class Petroleum Company by 2030. Its ongoing investment in its people and the education of Jamaica’s youth ensures that it has a core of extremely talented people to call on to make this a reality. 40 years on from its foundation and Petrojam is a veritable Jamaican success story.