Total Halts French Refineries as Workers Extend Strike


Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner, started to halt operations at all its French plants because of strike action, increasing the likelihood of fuel shortages.

The industrial action is “incompatible with the normal functioning of the refineries,” Total spokesman Michael Crochet-Vourey said by telephone. The Paris-company has five active plants in France, able to process 945,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

“Total workers have not only decided to extend the strike but to toughen the action by stopping all the refining installations,” the CGT union, the largest in the industry, said in a statement. “Since yesterday not one drop of fuel is leaving Total sites.”

France may face fuel shortages as early as next week, according to the Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, or UFIP, an industry group. Workers at 10 of France’s 12 refineries including all of Total’s six sites were on strike as part of a national protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension overhaul, according to the CGT.

European gasoline in northwest Europe advanced to a five- month high last week as refineries curbed production. The motor fuel traded as high as $769 a ton today, up 13 percent since the strike began.

Stranded Vessels

A strike at the port of Marseille’s Fos and Lavera oil terminals, which has blocked crude oil imports, entered its 17th day, leaving 55 vessels stranded including 38 fuel tankers and 11 gas transporters, according to a statement from the port.

The decision was taken to stop units at Donges, Feyzin, Grandpuits and Normandy for safety reasons and to prevent a buildup of fuel, Crochet-Vourey said. Total had already begun stopping operations at the La Mede refinery near Marseille because of crude shortages, he said.

Workers at the port of Marseille are demanding changes to the implementation of a ports reform law from 2008 and have left dozens of vessels stranded.

Shortages

Four of the six refineries dependent on crude supplies from Marseille may start closing at the end of this week, UFIP said. The refiners’ group has said fuel shortages may begin in regions near Marseille at the start of next week.

Workers at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Gravenchon refinery, Petroplus Holdings AG’s Reichstett plant and LyondellBasell Industries NV plant aren’t on strike today, according to union officials.

Workers are voting today at plants owned by LyondellBasell, Ineos and Exxon on whether units should be shut down, according to the CGT statement.

The Marseille docks have experienced stoppages in recent years as unions have resisted efforts to transfer public jobs to private companies. A 12-day strike in December 2008 cost refineries 26 million euros ($36 million), including 15 million euros related to vessel delays and 11 million euros in lost revenue, UFIP estimated at the time. A strike at the oil terminals in March 2007 lasted 17 days.

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