Total delays decision on Dunkirk refinery

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Feb. 2 -- Total SA postponed to the end of June its “final decision” on the future of the Dunkirk refinery that it previously said it would announce Feb. 1 at a special meeting of the Central Works Council.

Instead Total stated in a press release it “hoped to continue studies currently under way to secure the future of the site, reflecting its commitment to reaching a comprehensive and satisfactory solution in terms of operations and employment.”

Prior to the proposed meeting, Total refused to confirm or deny reports it would shut down the refinery. Nonetheless, strong pressure from Industry Minister Christian Estrosi and the Total trade unions had prompted this last-minute change of plans.

Estrosi said that “so long as there were not the necessary guarantees on the perenniality” of the 800 jobs concerned, “the government would not accept the shut down of the refinery.”

Not only the refinery and subcontracting jobs are threatened but also the port of Dunkirk, France's third largest, as 18% of its annual revenues are generated by oil traffic.

In its press release, Total confirmed its “potential interest” in Electritie de France's “planned LNG terminal at Dunkirk, which would cement the region's energy specialization.” EDF has not yet made a final decision on the project, which is estimated would cost €1-1.4 billion and would come on stream in 2014.

In the same press release Total announced it will set up in Dunkirk a refining operations technical support center and a training school “which combined would maintain two thirds of the current refinery jobs.”

Total noted that due to refining overcapacities the refinery has been idle since September, adding that “the market is not forecast to improve,” so the scheduled March turnaround “cannot be performed.”

Total Refining Vice-Pres. Michel Benezit was more specific, saying, “All scenarios are still possible but no way will the refinery continue to process crude oil.”

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