The potential sale of the country’s only oil refinery in Whitegate, Co Cork is back on the table despite its parent company appearing to pull the plug on the sales process last year.
US multinational energy company Phillips 66 has confirmed to the Irish Examiner that it is considering selling the refinery, which employs 300 people locally, adding that, longer-term, it expects that the “asset will be challenged”.
Whitegate’s future has been shrouded in uncertainty for some time and little progress has been made in terms of securing its longer-term future, with a contractual obligation between the Government and Phillips 66 to operate the refinery until July of next year drawing ever closer.
The company declined to outline any future plans for the refinery post the expiry of the obligation in 12 months, other than to reiterate that it is evaluating its options which include possibly offloading the refinery or transforming it into an import terminal.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday accused the Government of failing to afford the refinery the appropriate level of urgency required to safeguard its future and called on Energy Minister Alex White to engage with the company again to create a blueprint that would give certainty to the situation.
“I would encourage the Government to take a hands-on approach in relation to the refinery,” said Mr Martin. “It is of strategic importance to the region and to the country, and every effort should be made to retain it as an oil refinery.”
His comments were echoed by party colleague Michael McGrath, who said he is “extremely fearful for the future of the refinery” once the obligation concludes, adding that its closure would have a devastating impact on employment.
Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said he would raise the issue with Mr White this week.
In a parliamentary response to Mr Buttimer last month, the minister said he was in regular contact with Irish and US executives of Phillips 66, while officials from his department met with the Irish Petroleum Industry Association late last year to discuss the future of refining in Ireland.
He added that he intends to engage with other ministers “in the near future” to discuss the refinery’s future.
Phillips 66 discontinued the marketing of the refinery last year having attracted “limited to negative interest” from potential suitors, its chief executive, Greg Garland said at the time.
The Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources was not available for comment at the time of going to print.
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