Whitegate’s new owners vow to run facility as a refinery and keep jobs

The new owners of the country’s only oil refinery, Whitegate, Co Cork, have confirmed it is their “full intention” to run the facility as an operating refinery over the long-term and maintain its entire workforce of close to 300 employees.

Canadian company Irving Oil said it was making a long-term investment and offered a commitment to “both the people and the secure energy supply” that the refinery provides.

Irving Oil chief operating officer Mark Sherman said the company was impressed with the staff and facilities in Whitegate and had no intention of turning the refinery into a storage terminal, despite fears during the sales process that any new owners could be tempted to do so.

“Obviously, there was a lot of speculation through this sales process whether somebody might be interested in purchasing the asset just as operating as a terminal,” said Mr Sherman.

“Part of the due diligence of this whole process is to really assess the condition of the refinery and we were quite impressed, not only with the people but with the assets and the way they’ve been maintained, so we’re very comfortable operating as a refinery; that is our full intent. This is one way to increase our overall crude [oil] capacity as a company as we continue to grow and it lines up perfectly with our growth strategy.”

While major growth at the refinery is unlikely short-term, Mr Sherman said sustaining current employment levels and some incremental growth that would add “a few” new jobs is certainly plausible in the near future.

His comment was echoed by Sarah Irving, executive vice president and chief brand officer, who said the move excited the company for a number of reasons.

“When the Whitegate opportunity presented itself it was certainly something we were very interested in for a number of reasons,” she said. “In terms of the market similarities to the market that we operate in today in eastern Canada and New England, but also many of the cultural values are very similar between Whitegate and Irving Oil and between the people.

“We look forward to continuing to invest and continuing to grow and find synergies between our teams as we move forward, but absolutely, a very exciting day for our company.”

Irving’s only other refinery — in Saint John, New Brunswick — is Canada’s largest, capable of producing over 300,000 barrels of refined product per day.

Irving won out after a protracted sales process initiated by Texan company Phillips 66 (P66) in November 2015. P66 had previously failed in an earlier attempt to offload the refinery citing lack of interest in the facility.

Local Fine Gael TD David Stanton said the continued operation of the refinery on a commercial basis is an important part of the country’s security of supply.

The sale of the refinery was also welcomed by the Energy Minister Denis Naughten, who described it as “very positive” for Cork and the country in general.


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