UPDATE 1-Phillips 66 to sell Ireland's sole refinery

Tue Jun 11, 2013 11:37am EDT

* Analyst says refinery may shut if no buyer is found

* Party leader says sale will affect Irish economy

By Sabina Zawadzki and Simon Falush

NEW YORK/LONDON June 11 (Reuters) - Phillips 66 said on Tuesday it is to sell Ireland's only refinery, another blow to Europe's ailing oil refining industry.

An analyst said it was likely the 71,000 barrels per day Whitegate facility in Cork would have to shut as it will be hard to find buyers for it.

"The odds of a buyer emerging look slim," said Seth Kleinman, head of energy research at Citigroup.

"Phillips 66 intends to continue operating the assets as usual during the marketing process, which is expected to last for several months," company spokesman Rich Johnson said in a statement.

Other assets on sale include an oil and refined products storage terminal in Bantry Bay and its wholesale marketing business, the company said.

Europe's refining sector has been struggling because of over capacity.

Coryton refinery in the UK, owned by the bankrupt Petroplus group, closed last year after administrators failed to find a buyer for it.

Creditors of Petroplus's UK operations were paid a maximum of 6.4 percent of their claims.

Kleinman said a closure of Whitegate refinery would lead to worries about security of fuel supply for Ireland.

"Whitegate supplies about one third of Ireland's oil products, so it would leave a big hole to fill and has to raise questions about fuel security for the country."

In Dublin, the leader of Ireland's main opposition party Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, said the sale of Ireland's only oil refinery had potentially serious consequences for its economy.

"Whitegate is a key strategic asset. It provides one third of all our transportation fuel and is a long-term principal supplier to the National Oil Reserves Agency. The threat to its future has serious implications for Ireland's energy supply and consequently for our economy," Martin said in a statement.

He said Whitegate has operated in east Cork for nearly 55 years. "It has been a major employer in the area for decades, supporting hundreds of jobs directly and indirectly. Its loss would be a serious blow to local economy."

Data released on Tuesday also highlighted the strains on the European refinery sector.

European refiners processed less crude oil in May than the previous month, the data from industry monitor Euroilstock showed, cutting back in the face of weak demand in the region.

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