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French Oil Refineries in First Stages of Starting as Ports Open

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Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Oil refineries in France are starting to resume operations following the end of nationwide strikes and protests at terminals.

Protests at Total SA’s Gonfreville refinery have ended and “deliveries should resume shortly,” Michael Crochet-Vourey, a company spokesman, said today in a phone message. Exxon Mobil Corp. said it’s started pumping crude from Le Havre port, in northwest France, to its Gravenchon refinery and it will take several days to return to normal production, Catherine Brun, a company spokeswoman, said by phone from Paris.

Strikes at the main port of Marseille in the south of France ended after 33 days and vessels will begin discharging tonight, the port authority said in an e-mailed statement. The protest at the Fos and Lavera oil terminals at Marseille stranded 38 crude carriers and 20 product tankers.

Protests broke out at France’s ports on Sept. 27 before escalating over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform. The strikes caused France, the second-biggest refining center in Europe after Germany, to halt production from at least nine of 11 active facilities in the country and one in Switzerland.

“At Gonfreville, we are also at the very early stages of restarting refining operations,” Crochet-Vourey said. The refinery can process 345,000 barrels of oil a day and is France’s biggest, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

France’s port of Le Havre ended strikes at 6 a.m. local time today, a spokeswoman said by phone, declining to be identified citing company policy.

LyondellBasell Industries NV said it’s making plans for the start of the Berre refinery in the south of France after the Marseille port opened. “The timing of the restart will depend on the schedule of the unloading of the ships,” David Harpole, a company spokesman, said by phone from Houston.

Fuel deliveries from Dunkirk have also resumed, Total’s Crochet-Vourey said. The Dunkirk plant was idled last year amid declining demand for fuels such as gasoline and diesel. Strikes at the refiner’s Donges, Grandpuits and Feyzin plants were due to finish at midday, he said.

‘Resuming Operations’

“We are resuming operations progressively,” Exxon’s Brun said. Rain is hampering the start of the site’s primary crude distillation unit, she said.

France’s 11 active refineries can process 1.84 million barrels of oil a day, according to Bloomberg data. Oil companies began to halt production as early as Oct. 10 because of the strike actions.

“The refineries in France are gradually starting to come back,” Olivier Jakob, managing director at Petromatrix GmbH, a consultant based in Switzerland, said today in a note. “We would expect the situation to improve next week if not over the weekend.”

Workers at Petroplus Holdings AG’s Petit Couronne site returned to posts and fuel deliveries resumed, a CFDT union representative said yesterday. Petroplus, Europe’s largest independent refiner, was forced to start closing its Cressier refinery in Switzerland because of a lack of crude, the company said on Oct. 26. The plant relies on oil from France’s Marseille port via a pipeline.

Waiting for Crude

Ineos AG started to reduce production to “stand-by” mode at its Lavera refinery and petrochemical site in the south of France because of limited raw materials, the company said on Oct. 25. “We’re keeping the assets warm and when we get the crude, we’ll ramp up production,” Richard Longden, a U.K.-based Ineos spokesman, said two days ago.

The following table shows the status of French refineries, ranked by processing capacity in barrels a day. The Cressier plant in Switzerland is the only one outside France affected by the strikes as it gets crude supplies via pipeline from the southern port of Marseille.

Company        Location      Capacity      Status

Total          Gonfreville   345,000       In “very early
                                           stages” of starting,
                                           company said today.

Exxon Mobil    Gravenchon    233,000       Progressive
                                           resumption of
                                           operations, company
                                           said today. Crude is
                                           being pumped from Le
                                           Havre port. Will take
                                           several days to
                                           return to normal

Total          Donges        230,000       Halted. Strike ends
                                           at midday, company
                                           said today.

Ineos          Lavera        218,000       Units are in “stand-
                                           by” mode amid
                                           limited crude oil
                                           supplies from port in
                                           south of France.

Total          La Mede       157,000       First stages of
                                           starting after
                                           strike ended, company
                                           said on Oct. 27.

Petroplus      Petit         142,000       Started to shut on
               Couronne                    Oct. 14. Workers
                                           voted to end strike
                                           on Oct. 27.

Exxon Mobil    Fos           119,000       Runs at minimum on
                                           limited crude

Total          Feyzin        115,000       Halted. Strike to end
                                           at midday, company
                                           said today.

LyondellBasell Berre         105,000       Halted since Oct. 14
                                           because of a lack of
                                           crude oil. Company
                                           said today it’s
                                           making plans to start
                                           the plant.

Total          Grandpuits     93,000       Halted. Strike to end
                                           at midday, company
                                           said today.

Petroplus      Reichstett     81,000       Some production
                                           halted. Workers voted
                                           on Oct. 25 to return.

Petroplus      Cressier       68,000       Starts shutdown on
                                           limited crude oil
                                           supplies, company
                                           said on Oct. 26.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nidaa Bakhsh in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Voss at

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