The Port of Cork is partially “insulated” from future developments at Whitegate oil refinery but has a clear preference for it to remain operational, according to its chairman.
The refinery’s future continues to hang in the balance as the obligation on its owner Phillips 66 to operate the facility until July 2016 draws closer.
The ongoing uncertainty is cause for concern for the port which counts on Whitegate for 55% of its freight traffic.
The possibility that the refinery would be converted to a storage facility if the “worst-case scenario” came to pass offers some solace regardless of whether Whitegate remains operational, said Port of Cork chairman John Mullins.
“The worst case scenario if it closes is that it will be converted into strategic storage and actually a place where refined product will be shipped from,” said Mr Mullins.
“We believe [oil] product will still have to come through Cork.
“Logistically, you just couldn’t turn a switch over night and actually give this to Dublin or give it to Shannon Foynes.
"They do not have the capacity nor do they have the transport infrastructure, the reservoirs, the tankage etc, to do it but that’s cold comfort if the refinery closes down.
“Our view as a port board and company is we believe [Whitegate] is of strategic energy importance; not just to the south of Ireland but actually to the totality of Ireland and our thoughts are with the workers at the moment and hopefully this will get clarified very soon.
“There’s a glut of oil that needs storage so therefore we believe we’re insulated to an extent but frankly we’d prefer to see refining activity continue in Whitegate.”
In addition to the 155 or so staff directly employed by the refinery and 130 additional contractors, consideration must also be given to those employed in the transport industry whose fortunes are heavily influenced by the facility, Mr Mullins added.
The refinery is also of strategic importance to protect Ireland’s energy supply.
“Certainly, other countries in Europe have a deep security of supply concern if they didn’t have refineries.
"If this refinery closes we’re probably one of two countries in Europe that wouldn’t have a refinery,” said Mr Mullins.
The port’s chairman also criticised the extent of the support Whitegate had received to date.
He called on the Government to offer additional support, adding: “So far all you’ve heard is that it is of strategic importance; that’s not saying it’s of strategic necessity.”
Texas-based Phillips 66 put the refinery back on the market in November 2015 after reporting losses of more than $280m (€263.13m).
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