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Why Esso France is forced to sell one of its two refineries

According to the spokespersons of the American oil giant ExxonMobil, the simultaneity of the announcements of the definitive cessation of an activity of the group in Port-Jerôme-sur-Seine (Normandy) and the sale of its Fos-sur refinery -Mer (Bouches-du-Rhône) is a “calendar accident”.

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Why Esso France is forced to sell one of its two refineries

According to the spokespersons of the American oil giant ExxonMobil, the simultaneity of the announcements of the definitive cessation of an activity of the group in Port-Jerôme-sur-Seine (Normandy) and the sale of its Fos-sur refinery -Mer (Bouches-du-Rhône) is a “calendar accident”. And the same assure that the company is not withdrawing from France. However, the two decisions are based on similar grounds.

First of all, in Port-Jerôme-sur-Seine, around thirty kilometers from Le Havre, ExxonMobil Chemical France (EMCF) ceases its activities linked to the production of plastic. A steam cracker and units of polyethylene, polypropylene and adhesives units will be closed this year. “Since 2018, EMCF has lost 500 million euros,” justifies the group. The steam cracking unit dates from the 1960s. With its capacity of 400,000 tonnes per year, it is no longer competitive with the most recent Chinese or American mega-factories, which produce 1.2 million to 1.8 million tonnes per year. In addition, the French site is penalized by energy costs that are significantly higher than in the United States. “The Normandy site is stuck between these two blocks,” summarizes an ExxonMobile spokesperson to justify the choice.

The consequences of this decision on employment are serious: 677 jobs - including 30 at the headquarters in Île-de-France and 647 on the Normandy site - will be eliminated over the year 2025. The group promises to "initiate discussions with the public authorities for the revitalization of the employment area and the evaluation of new possible uses of the land that would be released. But the decision is all the more difficult to accept by stakeholders since, last year, the group earned $36 billion in profit. He also purchased the Texan Pioneer Natural Resources for $59.5 billion (56 billion euros).

Also read Where are the refineries and fuel depots in France?

The employees concerned, shocked by this announcement, should be offered internal reclassification solutions, incentives for retirement (early or not), measures to support professional retraining and external reclassification measures. Roland Lescure, the Minister of Industry and Energy, understands it this way: “The group has an absolute obligation to offer prospects of reclassification for employees and development for the site. »

Among the reclassification solutions could be jobs at the Esso refinery in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine. This separate unit will continue to produce fuels, lubricants, base oils and bitumens. “Port-Jerôme is a fairly dynamic area. We are not leaving there,” insists a spokesperson. This refinery employs around 1,000 people and has a production capacity of 12 million tonnes per year.

A few hundred kilometers to the south, Esso France is preparing to sell another unit, for an amount which has not been communicated. This time it concerns the Esso France petroleum products refinery in Fos-sur-mer and the Toulouse and Villette-de-Vienne terminals, all taken over by Rhône Énergies, a consortium between Entara and Trafigura. “Esso carried out an evaluation of its asset portfolio and found a buyer who would ensure the maintenance of jobs and bring projects,” explains an Esso spokesperson.

Also read: Why Esso France is forced to sell one of its two refineries

Entara is a refining infrastructure manager, present notably in Denmark. Trafigura, based in Singapore, is a world leader in the supply of energy and raw materials ; last year it marketed 263 million tonnes of petroleum products and generated $7.4 billion in net income. The latter “is expected to enter into an exclusive crude oil supply and offtake agreement for a minimum of ten years”. It would thus provide the Fos refinery with a guaranteed commercial outlet. “This divestment project is part of Esso's long-term strategy in France aimed at maintaining the competitiveness of its operations, while guaranteeing continuity of supply to its customers in the south of France.” , commented Charles Amyot, CEO of Esso SAF.

Enough to reassure, at least in part, the approximately 310 employees affected by the sale. Especially since they “would be transferred to the new entity Rhône Énergies”. It also undertakes to make investments “in industrial performance and sustainable development projects”. Several avenues are already emerging to improve the energy performance of the site and/or to begin developing the production of biofuels.

Indeed, the sale of Fos-sur-mer provides a petroleum product refining capacity of approximately 7 million tonnes per year, 700,000 cubic meters of crude storage and 1.1 million cubic meters of storage. of finished products. An important device on a national scale. “France has a total capacity of 59.1 million tonnes per year,” recalls Olivier Gantois, president of Ufip Énergies et Mobilités. Capabilities that are not impacted by today's announcements.

Also read: Residents of the Fos-sur-Mer industrial complex deplore having been “treated like waste”

“French refining capacity is not very far from national demand, all petroleum products combined, with 65 million tonnes consumed in France last year,” adds Olivier Gantois. Even if the trend is towards a decline in refining capacity on French territory. The TotalEnergies refinery in La Mède, converted to biofuels in 2019, produces 500,000 tonnes per year, compared to 5 million to 7 million tonnes of refined petroleum products previously. That of Grandpuits will enter production in 2025, with a capacity of 400,000 tonnes, compared to just under 5 million when it processed petroleum products.

In six years, France will have reduced its oil refining capacity by nearly 10 million tonnes. A logical movement, which accompanies the transformation of the national automobile fleet with the rise of electric vehicles. Oil demand in France was around 40 million tonnes in 2023 for road fuel, compared to 41.3 million tonnes in 2019. “The downward trend will continue and intensify”, predicts Olivier Gantois, who however refuses to make any predictions about the future of the refining sector. “It’s a production that is easily exported by tanker, the game is very open,” he adds.

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