Speaking at the official launch of the Irish division of Irving Oil yesterday, Mr Naughten stressed the Whitegate facility was “crucially important for Ireland”.
“It is crucially important from the point of view this is the only oil refinery on the island of Ireland. It is much easier to access crude oil than processed oils — petrol and diesel.
"So it is important from a security point of view that we have an oil refinery on the island. It is not just an Irish issue. It is a European issue as well,” he said.
Mr Naughten said the new owner had secured 160 jobs at the refinery, as well as many more indirect jobs.
The future of the refinery, which was owned and operated by Phillips 66, was in doubt when the 15-year operating licence ran out during the summer.
Irving Oil views Whitegate as a key element in expanding their business in Europe.
The refinery can process 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day, as well as handle other fuels such as kerosene, diesel and home heating oil.
Irving Oil president Ian Whitcomb praised Whitegate’s safety record, saying there were “great opportunities” for the refinery to work alongside Irving’s refinery in Canada, the country’s largest.
Whitegate supplies up to 40% of the main products on the Irish market, and was privatised as a result of its sale by the State in 2001 to Phillips 66.
Up to the 1990s most of the crude oil in Ireland came from the North Sea but supply is now imported from multiple sources, including west Africa and Canada, said operations manager Dermot O’Sullivan, who has worked at the 230-acre Whitegate site since 1986.
“You manage it (safety) by looking after the very small things. In the event of an incident, we would evacuate straight away. We have an emergency response team in the refinery.
"We have a shift of 12 people — all trained emergency response personnel. We have our own emergency response vehicles. We have fire engines and ambulances,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Michael Hegarty said the acquisition of the refinery was “fantastic news” for the area.
Irving Oil was founded in 1924 and is a privately owned regional refining and marketing company.
Irving Oil operates Canada’s largest refinery in Saint John, which can process 320,000 barrels a day.