UPDATE 1-Unions ask Hawaii gov. for help in selling Tesoro refinery

HOUSTON, March 20 Wed Mar 20, 2013 6:08pm EDT

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HOUSTON, March 20 (Reuters) - Union representatives of workers at Tesoro Corp's Hawaii refinery on Wednesday delivered petitions to the state's governor asking that he help find a buyer for the plant.

United Steelworkers Union members in the local chapter, Local 12-591, also asked that Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie appoint a USW member to his committee evaluating how Tesoro's closure of the refinery could affect the state's economy.

Tesoro announced in January that it would shut the refinery in Kapolei, Hawaii, and convert it to an import, storage and distribution terminal. The company had tried to sell the unprofitable refinery, but lack of worthy buyers prompted Tesoro to shut it down.

Six other North American refineries have been shut and converted to terminals since 2009 for economic reasons.

Tesoro's plant imports all of its crude to make motor fuels for the local market. It is powered by oil, rather than much cheaper natural gas.

Both factors put it at a sharp disadvantage to other refineries with access to cheap inland U.S. or Canadian crude and that are powered by natural gas.

However, the USW chapter said turning the refinery into a terminal would lead to more fuel imports, higher gasoline prices and the loss of jobs.

"Why should the fuel be refined overseas when we can do it right here at home and not throw people out of work?" said Local 12-591 unit chair Pat Koge.

Tesoro said last month that the company expected to halt refining operations at the plant during the first quarter, which ends this month, and move forward with plans to convert it to a terminal.

Chevron Corp operates a 54,000 bpd refinery in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.

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