We often hear that Europe has too many refineries and that many need to close down. Yet we await in vain the announcements that will allow the remainder of the sector to make a better profit.
So whilst we were waiting, I thought it would be useful to identify which refineries are those that are at risk.
Let us start with Italy, a market with substantial refining capacity, that has seen demand shrink significantly in recent years. It is widely believed that ENI is to shut some or all of the following: Gela Refinery, Leghorn Livorno Refinery and Taranto Refinery. Of the other Italian refineries, Falconara Marittima Ancona Refinery is also thought to be a candidate. Other potential closure candidates have changed hands and are assumed to be safe for now.
France also needs to reduce its capacity but Total had promised back in 2009 not to close any more refineries until 2015. With the critical date just around the corner, Donges Refinery, Feyzin Refinery and Provence Refinery are those rumoured to be in the firing line.
When it comes to buyers regret however, nothing can surely come close to PKN Orlen's feelings towards the Mazeikiu Nafta Refinery, which has been a thorn in their side since the acquistion in 2006.
MOL is having similar feelings about Sisak Refinery, and is in a battle with the Croatian government over a potential closure. Despite investing in the plant, Hellenic can not make a profit from its Thessaloniki Refinery, and has not been running it for a while. Tenerife Refinery is in a similar state of limbo.
In much of the world, consumers are insulated from the price of oil and oil products because their governments see fit to subsidize or otherwise control the prices at the pump. The fact that a valuable commodity gets sold too cheap, is wasteful and distorts the market. It means that globally we use "too much" oil. In many low income countries, stretched government budgets get wasted on providing cheap fuel to the better off, whilst schools and hospitals fall into ruin.
It is a disaster for everyone.
There is however another hidden cost, one that is extremely high for the ones that pay it. Price controls kill. Wherever a refiner is not able to sell his fuel at a market price, the result is cutting corners and skimping on maintenance:
The Brazilian union for petroleum workers, FUP, said the tragedy highlighted the worsening working conditions at Petrobras plants, saying the accident was the sixth in a week at different refineries run by Brazil's state-run oil company.
That is a terrible track record.
Petrobras is not the worst example of this, PDVSA is. Venezuela has the cheapest gasoline in the world, but it comes with the highest body count of any refiner anywhere. Gas is cheap, and so is life.