WASHINGTON — California Sen. Barbara Boxer accused Shell Oil on Tuesday of planning to begin shutting down its refinery in Bakersfield sooner than publicly disclosed. A company spokesman denied the allegation.
“My information is that Shell is planning to begin the shutdown process as early as August by taking production units off line,” Boxer wrote in a letter to the president of Shell, Lynn Laverty Elsenhans.
“To take refinery units off-line in August, when summer gas prices are at a peak, will only worsen the problem of insufficient supply. … If true, then your earlier statements of an October shutdown are not accurate.”
The 70,000-barrel-per-day refinery produces 2 percent of the state’s gasoline – enough that Boxer and other officials fear its closure will send the state’s skyrocketing gas prices even higher.
Boxer and others dispute Shell‘s contention that it is closing because San Joaquin Valley crude supplies are drying up and the refinery is not profitable. Attorney General Bill Lockyer is investigating the situation, and the Federal Trade Commission is also reviewing the matter.
Boxer said the information about Shell beginning its shutdown sooner than announced came from company whistleblowers who’ve talked to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.
Jamie Court, the foundation’s president, said his group has talked to about half-a-dozen Shell employees, including refinery workers, who’ve reported being told by management about a planned shutdown in the crude unit in the third week of August.
Shell spokesman David Harrington denied that.
“The statement that we’re going to be closing that facility or taking units off-line in August is false, it’s just not happening,” he said.
He said the company would begin ramping down production after Labor Day – but not before then – which would be necessary to meet its long-stated deadline of closing by Oct. 1.
“You don’t walk in the morning of the 30th and turn off a refinery,” he said.
Boxer planned to press her case in a meeting Wednesday with Deborah Majoras, President Bush‘s nominee to take over as head of the FTC, and in a phone call with Elsenhans.