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Total Will Keep Operating Lindsey Refinery If Not Sold, CFO Says

Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner, is in talks to sell its Lindsey refinery in the U.K., which it may keep if the negotiations fail, according to Chief Financial Officer Patrick de la Chevardiere.

“We have long discussions and negotiations currently going on,” he said on a conference call on third-quarter results. “It’s taking longer than expected. We could put the sale process on hold until the market improves if we aren’t successful by year-end but as of today I am still optimistic.”

“If it’s not sold by year-end we will keep it,” he said, adding that it would continue to operate as a crude-processing plant and not be converted to a terminal.

The French oil company has been trying to sell Lindsey for almost two years. Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie previously said he wanted a sale completed by the end of 2010 and last month set a new deadline for the end of 2011. Total has cut refining capacity by about one-fifth, or 500,000 barrels a day, in part by selling its 49 percent stake in Cia. Espanola de Petroleos SA for 3.97 billion euros and shutting its plant at Dunkirk.

A planned merger of the refining and chemicals divisions at Total has the “potential to do more than increase profitability,” de la Chevardiere said today. “It will revitalize and unlock value.”

He declined to say how this would be done.

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