Claudia Lopez Manager of a spent sulfuric acid regeneration facility

While she introduces herself as “a mother, a woman, a wife, and a plant manager,”
Claudia has no bones about revealing that she is completely and single-mindedly dedicated to each of her roles. And her 27 colleagues — 26 of whom are men! — would certainly not disagree...
Published in the dossier of December 2020

Claudia has a long history with El Paso. This lively thirtysomething left the city at the age of 18 to follow chemical engineering studies in Indiana. After 11 years in the food processing industry, she returned there to complete her education with an Executive MBA and start a family.

Appointed manager of Borderland’s spent sulfuric acid regeneration facility in 2018, she puts into practice her convictions and expertise in terms of the circular economy. The plant backs onto its main client, Marathon Petroleum, which uses sulfuric acid as a catalyst in the crude oil refining process. Veolia recovers the acid gas from the refinery and extracts the sulfuric acid from it, regenerating it to sell it back to the refinery. This allows the client to reduce both its environmental footprint and its costs.

“Out of the 450 metric tons of acid treated each month, 230 return to Marathon. The surplus goes into our local industrial ecosystem,” explains Claudia.

At the helm of a plant operating 24/7, 365 days a year — “if we want to close, we have to give the refinery six months’ advance notice!”, Claudia aims for excellence when it comes to its production. Her golden rule: scrupulously following the safety measures inherent in the treatment of a waste material considered to be highly toxic, not forgetting the ongoing drive to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, which are currently below the industrial thresholds.

A real challenge for this windowless ‘pocket-sized’ plant, where the slightest maintenance operation turns into an organizational headache.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the reliability of the facilities — which must contractually reach 98% — is Claudia’s number one priority for 2021. If the refinery’s production lines shut down for a long time, this could affect the leak tightness of the plant and risk having acid leaks.

“Our operations are closely linked to those of the refinery, and if we had an extended unexpected shutdown, it would cost millions of dollars in contractual penalties!” she reveals.

Hence the importance of the close working relationship fostered with the manager of the refinery:

“It’s like a team within a team. We share our strategies, road maps and innovation ambitions for the oil sector.” This close-knit management style made discussions and decision-making much easier when the Covid-19 crisis hit.


“The slightest problem is potentially serious here and it is important to collectively contend with the hazardous environment in which we work,” concludes Claudia.


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