UPDATE 1-UK refinery strike talks resume, Forties flows could suffer
* Both sides brief media on negative tactics of opponents
* Company and union also argue over pensions, pay
* Plant heads for "cold shutdown" threatening North Sea supply-union
* Strike to begin on Sunday, Oct 20 (Adds quotes, latest on Forties pipeline, background)
By Simon Falush and Alex Lawler
LONDON, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Talks to avert a 48-hour strike at the Grangemouth refinery in Scotland resumed on Tuesday amid an atmosphere of hostility between operator Ineos and the Unite union, raising the chances of disruption to North Sea crude oil flows.
Concerns are growing that a walkout at the 210,000 barrel per day refinery will lead to a repeat of a similar strike in 2008 that interrupted flows of crude through the Forties Pipeline System (FPS), pushing up Brent crude oil futures.
BP, the operator of the North Sea Forties oil pipeline, said the pipeline was continuing to produce as normal.
"We understand from Ineos and Unite's press statements that there is an intent to keep the utilities necessary for the continued operation of FPS at this stage but we are awaiting formal confirmation of this," a BP statement said.
Ineos said on Monday units at Grangemouth were being shut down and brought to a "cold status" ahead of the stoppage due to start on Sunday. Union sources say this amounts to a "cold shutdown", which means the plant will not produce steam.
Steam generated by Grangemouth during the refining process is vital to the Kinneil oil stabilisation and gas separation plant, where Forties comes ashore.
Forties is the largest of the four North Sea crude oils that underpin the Brent oil benchmark, used to price about two thirds of the world's oil. Supply of Forties is scheduled to average 387,000 barrels per day in October.
But without the steam from Grangemouth it would potentially limit the pipeline to about 100,000 barrels of oil per day, an oil industry source said.
Ineos at the weekend said it was willing to go to talks at the conciliation service ACAS, after previously saying it would be premature to do so. The strike has been called in support of a Unite representative Stephen Deans in a dispute with Ineos .
Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish secretary, said Ineos had cut short a mediation session on Monday evening, while the union had been ready to continue discussions.
"We are very disappointed matters could not be progressed through the evening particularly as we presented a number of proposals in a bid to resolve this dispute and we were prepared to work throughout the night if need be."
Ineos responded that the union had refused to engage in discussions about protecting North Sea oil flows and fuels for Scotland, an assertion the union denies.
"Unite has consistently offered to keep the site on 'hot standby' in the event of a strike, providing competent and skilled cover that would protect the vitality of the refinery and petrochemical operations while maintaining plant safety," Rafferty said.
Putting a plant into hot standby halts output of finished products but means the facility can be returned to full production quickly. Ramping a plant back up from cold standby could take around 72 hours, an industry source said.
Ineos also said that it did not want Deans, the subject of the dispute, to be on the union's negotiating team.
However, Unite said that the company had agreed to the participation of Deans in the discussions.
Ineos says the Grangemouth petrochemical plant has been losing money for four years and will have to close unless it can lower costs by cutting jobs and renegotiating pensions.
The Grangemouth refinery provides most of Scotland's fuel. It is owned jointly by Ineos and PetroChina.
"We came to ACAS in good faith and remain determined to resolve the issues facing us if at all possible," Calum MacLean Grangemouth Petrochemicals UK chairman said. (Editing by Keiron Henderson)
- South Korea expands air defense zone to partially overlap China's |
- Four dead in apparent Connecticut murder-suicide
- Dynasty's Congress party punished in Indian state elections
- Ukrainian protesters topple Lenin statue in challenge to Yanukovich
- U.S. war veteran released by North Korea returns home |