Canadian group Irving Oil to buy Cork’s Whitegate Refinery

Buyer pledges to continue full operation at Whitegate and maintain existing workforce

Canada's Irving Oil is set to buy Ireland's only refinery at Whitegate in Cork Harbour, ending months of speculation about the facility's future.

Whitegate oil refinery’s owner, US group Phillips 66, announced last year that it was putting it on the market and reports in recent days indicated that a deal was imminent.

Irving confirmed on Wednesday that it has agreed to buy the refinery from Phillips 66 and that it expects the sale to go through by the end of next month.

The buyer pledged to continue full operation at Whitegate and to maintain its existing workforce.

Whitegate processes up to 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day and produces petrol, diesel and kerosene. It employs 160 people.

The refinery supplies 40 per cent of the Irish market and the Government regards it as key to maintaining energy security in the Republic.

Ministerial welcome

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, welcomed the news.

“Security of energy supply is important to ongoing economic growth and development and a pillar of our energy policy,” he said.

Iriving Oil is a family-owned group that operates Canada's biggest refinery at St John, New Brunswick, which handles 320,000 barrels a day.

It supplies wholesale and retail customers in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and New England in the US.

Irving's president, Ian Whitcomb, said that the acquisition "felt natural" for the Canadian group.

“The Whitegate refinery has a tremendous reputation as a vital and secure supplier to the Irish market, and we will uphold that commitment very proudly and very seriously.”

Operational performance

Its chief operating officer, Mark Sherman, said that Whitegate had impressed the Canadian company.

“The operational performance of Whitegate is strong,” he said. “It has well-established and diligent maintenance schedules and we are struck by the positive working environment seen amongst its people.”

Accounts show that Whitegate’s operations lost $148 million in 2014, the last year for which figures are available. The deficit was more than three times the $47 million reported the previous year.

A writedown in the value of its assets, prompted by falling oil prices and a difficult market for European refiners, left it with overall losses for the year of €282 million.