July 24, 2012 / 11:14 AM / 7 years ago

Court to decide fate of French Petroplus refinery

* France’s new Socialist government taken active role on it

* Unions say the two offers before the court “acceptable”

* French media report the offers include keeping 550 staff

* Refinery restarted production on June 14 in Shell deal

PARIS, July 24 (Reuters) - A French court will on Tuesday decide whether to pick or reject bids submitted to purchase the troubled Petit-Couronne refinery of insolvent oil firm Petroplus, with two offers described as “acceptable” by trade unions keen to preserve jobs.

The court could also decide to extend the bidding deadline or simply liquidate the plant, which was placed under legal protection after Swiss-based refinery Petroplus filed for insolvency last year.

The refining units, which stopped production on January 10, restarted operations last month under a deal with Royal Dutch Shell, the former owner of the refinery, to deliver 100,000 barrels per day of products.

The refinery, which has a staff of 550, has benefited from improved refining margins in line with lower crude oil prices.

“There are two bids which we believe are relevant and acceptable,” Nicolas Vincent, union coordinator for the refinery told Reuters, adding the unions had examined all offers.

“The refinery workers would not understand if the court did not retain any offers,” Vincent said.

According the Paris Normandie newspaper, the two bids are from foreign companies described as “solid”. French radio Europe 1 said the firms had offered to keep all 550 staff.

France’s new Socialist government has taken an active role in managing the situation as it tries to avoid a wave of factory closures after unemployment hit its highest level since 1999.

Vincent declined to detail the offers, which will be examined by the Rouen commercial court, in northwestern France, from 1200 GMT.

French refiners, in particular, have been struggling for years due to poor margins, weak demand and a surplus of gasoline capacity while the traditional market for French gasoline exports, the United States, has dried up.

Refineries in France have lost 2 billion euros ($2.42 billion) over the last three years, the oil industry lobby says.

France’s plan for a one-off tax on oil inventories announced earlier this month is likely to further damage the competitiveness of the beleaguered refining industry and discourage investments in unprofitable refineries.

The tax is expected to cost the Petit-Couronne plant 8 million euros.

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