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The Times: Shell puts its French refineries up for sale

November 17, 2006
By Carl Mortished, International Business Editor
 
EUROPE’S oil refining industry is poised for a big upheaval as Royal Dutch Shell puts its French refineries up for sale. The Dutch multinational is pulling out of the refining market in France, seeking buyers for its three plants at Petit Couronne, Reichstett and Berre l’Etang. 
 
Shell’s move to reduce its European refining capacity follows BP’s decision in June to put its Coryton refinery in Essex up for sale. Shell has already taken steps to reduce capacity with the closure of Shell Haven.

The Dutch company is believed to have appointed Citicorp and JPMorgan to conduct a tender offer for the French refineries but it may struggle to find a single buyer for complex assets in a mature high-cost market such as France. Major oil groups are focusing their downstream businesses on large integrated petrochemical plants where they can achieve huge economies of scale.

Buyers for Shell’s French plants are likely to come from smaller petrochemical groups rather than a major player such as Total which is already building a high-tech refinery in the country. They could include companies such as Petroplus and Ineos or Middle Eastern groups such as Sabic, the Saudi petrochemical company. The Swiss-based Petroplus has recently launched a public offering on the Swiss stock exchange to raise new capital.

Other possible investors could include Access Industries, the private industrial group owned by Len Blavatnik, who is one of BP’s Russian partners in the TNK-BP joint venture.

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