Shell Oil president retracts statement about Bakersfield, Calif., refinery

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The Bakersfield Californian

The president of Shell Oil Co. has retracted a statement he made to Senate committees last month, saying the company in fact did not seek buyers before deciding to close its Bakersfield refinery.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has alleged Shell‘s attempt to close the Bakersfield refinery was part of a concerted effort to reduce the state’s gasoline supply.

Boxer has asked the Senate’s Commerce Committee to bring back key oil executives, including Shell president John Hofmeister, to testify under oath.

“We need to get at the truth, and the only way to do that is to bring the oil company executives back before the committee under oath,” Boxer said Thursday in a letter to the committee’s chairman and Democratic co-chair.

The oil executives were not under oath during the Nov. 9 hearing before the Senate’s Commerce and Energy committees when Hofmeister said, “We shopped the refinery around unofficially, but did not find buyers. We then decided to close it.” In a Dec. 2 letter to the chairs of the Senate Commerce and Energy committees and Commerce committee co-chair Boxer, Hofmeister said he was “mistaken” about the timing.

Hofmeister, who took over as Shell president in March, blamed the discrepancy in his account on his working outside the United States in a different position with Shell at the time it was seeking to close the Bakersfield refinery.

“This excuse that, ‘I wasn’t in the country at the time,’ is just not credible given the fact that going in you had to know Senator Boxer was a member of the committee and was very active in trying to keep the refinery open,” Boxer spokesperson David Sandretti said. “Either he was very unprepared or he was trying to mislead the committee.” Hofmeister’s letter was sent in response to several questions raised by committee members about his testimony at the November hearing.

Hofmeister was unavailable for comment Thursday, but Shell spokesperson Darci Sinclair said of Hofmeister’s letter: “We just wanted to make sure for the record everything was clear.” The Rosedale Highway refinery escaped the wrecking ball when Shell sold it to Flying J Inc. in March.

Shell announced in November 2003 its plans to close the refinery, saying the facility was “no longer economically viable.” Following public outrage and political pressure, Shell changed course by April 2004, saying it was willing to talk to potential buyers.

“They knew by keeping this refinery closed they would have been able to charge a dime more a gallon,” said Jamie Court of The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica. “This is a case study on what actually happens in the oil industry every day.”

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