Critics of Shell closure plan say Bakersfield, Calif., refinery still viable

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The Bakersfield Californian

Critics of Shell Oil Co.’s plans to close its Bakersfield refinery cited an expert’s preliminary conclusions as more evidence the plant is economically Matt Phillipsviable and should remain open.

In a Saturday story, the Los Angeles Times quoted consultant Malcolm Turner as saying he disagreed with Shell‘s opinion that the Rosedale Highway facility was not economically viable.

Turner said his preliminary conclusions find the refinery is commercially and economically feasible. On Monday, Turner declined to comment further on his findings.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer had hired Dallas-based energy consultant Turner, Mason & Company in May to get a second opinion on whether the plant is economically viable.

The plant is set to close Oct. 1, throwing around 250 out of work.

A spokesman from Shell Oil Products US said the company stands by its reasons
for shuttering the plant.

“We stand by our conclusions that the small, inefficient, land-locked Bakersfield refinery is not economically viable going forward from Shell‘s perspective,” said Stan Mays, a spokesman for the company.

The company officially announced plans to close the plant in November 2003, confirming rumors that had been circulating for months.

Since then, Shell officials have adamantly said they need to close the plant for economic reasons. The company is open to the possibility of a sale of the refinery, spokesmen said.

Others have criticized the rationale behind the closure, saying it would cut gas supplies and boost the dollars consumers pay at the pump.

The Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation into the proposed closure. The government agency, which attempts to protect consumers by stopping anticompetitive practices, has been investigating issues surrounding the possible closure of the refinery, said Mitch Katz, public affairs specialist at
the FTC.

Katz said he couldn’t comment further while the probe is under way.

The California attorney general’s office is also conducting an investigation of the closure from antitrust and other legal perspectives, said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the attorney general.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) said Monday the senator will forward The Times’ story on the Turner report to the Federal Trade Commission.

The attorney general’s office expects Turner, Mason and Co.’s entire report to be turned in by the end of the month, Dresslar said.

“We will comment on it at that time,” Dresslar said.

Energy consultant Tim Hamilton, who worked with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights on issues surrounding the closure, said Turner’s comments are important.

“It answers the question, ‘Is Shell telling the truth about Bakersfield or not?’ and apparently they’re not,” said Hamilton.

But Shell spokesman Mays said the company has been forthright about its reasons for closing the plant, and is sticking to its conclusions.

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