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Sale of refinery is close to collapse

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MurcoONLY one bidder remains as a possible buyer for Murphy Oil’s 130,000 barrels-per-day Milford Haven refinery, but the process is close to collapse, a source familiar with the matter said on Sunday.
The refinery, operated by U.S. oil and gas company Murphy Oil subsidiary Murco, is the latest British plant to face closure as the industry battles lower demand and increased competition from new, modern refineries in the Middle East and Asia.
Officials at Murphy Oil were not immediately available for comment. The source told the Herald a last bidder was still in the running to buy the plant as a going concern although the bid was seen as having little chance of success.
Many analysts believe the plant is likely to be turned into a storage terminal.
The refinery has been up for sale for three years, but Murphy Oil has failed to find a buyer for the plant, which employs nearly 400 in West Wales.
It is believed that at least two companies were offered the plant for free, plus a dowry worth “tens of millions” of pounds.
Fears that the refinery could close follow the battle to save the Grangemouth refinery complex, on the Firth of Forth, Scotland.
A spokesman for the Welsh government said: “We maintain regular contact with Murco and will continue to communicate with them about their operation in Wales.”
Pembrokeshire councillor John Allen-Mirehouse, former cabinet member for regeneration and economic development on Pembrokeshire County Council said: “This is a turbulent time for oil refining and the industry in Pembrokeshire is not exempt from these pressures.
“I would be horrified if the refinery closed. The jobs there are very skilled, well paid and very important to the community.”
The Milford Haven refinery can process up to five million tonnes of crude oil per year. Murco bought 30% of the then Amoco refinery in 1981 and acquired the remaining 70% in December 2007.
It was first reported that the Milford Haven site was threatened last year when Murphy chief executive David Wood said that in the absence of an offer the company was “evaluating the potential conversion of the facility into a storage terminal”.
Since then, the plants economic performance has slipped further as oil margins in the UK have come under pressure.
In its preliminary results, published on October 30 this year, Murphy Oil planed “weaker margins at the Milford Haven refinery” for a loss of $22.7m (£14.23m) in its UK refining and marketing operations.
Production at the plant has fallen slightly in the last year to average 126,303 barrels a day over the last month, down from 132,282 barrels a day for the same period the previous year.
The Murco plant is one of two oil refineries in West Wales alongside the Valero plant at Pembroke which was sold by former owner Chevron in August 2011.
The possibility of a shutdown at the Milford Haven refinery is likely to cause fresh concern in Whitehall and with the Welsh Government.
The Scottish Government was quick to meet union leaders and management at Grangemouth, eventually averting the threat of closure.
Murco could not be contacted for comment.
Experts say that the refining industry, which was built up decades ago to convert North Sea crude into petrol and diesel, is struggling as domestic oil production falls and facilities age.
The number of refineries has dwindled from 18 to seven.
Milford Haven is the only refinery left in Murphy Oil’s empire after the company sold a pair of American sites.
The industry has also been weakened by the rise of diesel-powered cars as many refineries, including Murco’s, mostly produce petrol.
In terms of size and complexity, the most marginal refinery Britain is Milford Haven because of its small capacity.

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Heatherton expansion approved

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• Committee overturns officers’ objections

• Economic benefits outweigh other impacts

Conditions must not delay development

THE COUNCIL’s Planning Committee voted to approve plans to extend holiday accommodation at Heatherton at its meeting on Tuesday (June 15).

Officers recommended refusal of the plans.

During their discussions, the Committee’s members noted the reasons for refusal detailed by the planning report. They concluded, however, with appropriate conditions in place, the economic benefits of the development outweighed the bases outlined for refusal.

Addressing the meeting, the applicant, Charlie Davies, told Committee members that the changing holiday market meant Heatherton and the area around it would miss out on opportunities to meet the demand for holidays in Pembrokeshire. He added that the planned expansion – to include a further twenty holiday lodges – would secure year-round jobs at Heatherton and have a positive impact on the local rural economy.

Mr Davies said the existing lodge development, approved by the authority seven years ago, improved the viability of Heatherton as an enterprise and would further strengthen the business’ finances.

Officers objected to the plans because they said the development would be outside settlement boundaries and run contrary to environmental policy. 

The report, presented by the Head of Planning David Popplewell, set out a series of concerns regarding the lodges’ visual impact, a lack of screening, and the lack of detail about landscaping plans and construction controls during development.

However, addressing the Committee as one of the local members whose Ward would be affected by the development, Cllr Phil Kidney said St Florence Community Council vigorously supported the application as being of direct benefit to businesses in the village. 

He pointed out that the economic benefits were not only Tenby centric but affected businesses elsewhere in the County.

Phil Kidney told the Committee his visit to a laundry in Pembroke Dock, by chance, revealed that laundry he delivered would be delayed because of laundry being done for the accommodation already on site. 

Cllr Kidney added that, bearing in mind the current furore over second homes, the provision of holiday accommodation on sites such as Heatherton could reduce the demands on local housing and open-up opportunities for local people to live locally.

He fully endorsed the proposal and said he could see no downside to permitting further expansion of a business that delivered jobs to local people, especially young people entering the jobs market for the first time.

Cllr Jonathan Preston agreed with Cllr. Kidney. 

He observed that the regulations regarding what constituted ‘a caravan’ were out of date and out of touch with reality. 

Although the proposed lodges were technically caravans; they were a world away from what most people would expect a caravan to look like and beyond the vision that informed the current rules regarding the term.

Cllr Mark Carter said the problems identified in the planning report could be addressed through the imposition of conditions on the development to offset them.

Mark Carter pointed out issues regarding the detail of landscaping works and lighting could be subject to conditions drafted by officers.

His opinion was warmly welcomed by both Cllrs David Pugh and Vice-Chair Tony Wilcox.

David Pugh said Heatherton was a successful business, employing local people and should be encouraged to continue to offer job opportunities for locals.

Tony Wilcox said Heatherton was one of the three main jewels in Pembrokeshire’s tourist crown. 

He noted the other two destinations – Folly Farm and Bluestone – both recently applied to extend their facilities, and he could see little or no difference between what Heatherton proposed and what officers were prepared to accept elsewhere.

Cllr Tim Evans developed Cllr Wilcox’s theme, observing that officers barely raised an eyebrow about a further eighty pieces of holiday accommodation at Bluestone, which he said had ‘whizzed through’. 

Subject to conditions being brought back to the Committee, he fully supported the application.

Cllr Jacob Williams, Chair of Planning, asked whether the proposed conditions would be back before the Committee for its next meeting in July. 

Having received an equivocal answer he moved that if the Committee approved the scheme, with the proposed planning conditions to offset officers’ objections must come before the Committee on July 27.

Cllr Pugh endorsed that approach by saying nobody wanted the proposal kicked into the long grass.

Councillors approved the plans unanimously by 14 votes to nil, and officers must prepare conditions to attach to the planning permission ahead of the Committee’s next meeting.

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Milford Haven: Christmas cosmetics thief caged

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A MIDLANDS shop lifter caught stealing £2200 worth of cosmetics and skin care products from Boots in Milford Haven just before Christmas, has been jailed.

Magistrates sitting at Haverfordwest Court on Tuesday (Jun 15) accepted a guilty plea from 53-year-old Ion-Gabriel Maimut of Perrott Street, Birmingham.

He was jailed for what the bench described as “offending so serious because the defendant has a flagrant disregard for people and their property.

“And because of the high degree of planning and the high value of the theft.

“And because the theft was aggravated by the defendant’s record of previous offending.”

Maiumut, bang-to-rights, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to a single theft of goods from Boots to the value of £2204.91 on December 4, 2020.

The court confirmed that the defendant’s guilty plea was considered when imposing sentence.

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Blue Gem Wind begins digital aerial surveys for 300MW Valorous floating wind project

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BLUE GEM WIND, the joint venture between TotalEnergies, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and Simply Blue Energy, has begun offshore digital aerial surveys for a proposed 300MW floating wind project.

APEM Ltd have been chosen by Blue Gem Wind to deliver 24 consecutive monthly bird and marine mammal surveys of the early-commercial scale Valorous site. The high resolution data obtained will support baseline environmental characterisation of the site and environmental impact assessments for key ecological receptors.

The survey programme commenced in March 2021 and four of the 24 monthly surveys have been completed
to date.

Sean Evans, Environmental Specialist at Blue Gem Wind said, “It is important for us to begin long-lead in items
such as bird and marine mammal surveys as early as possible. These surveys will provide crucial species specific
data on the number, spatial distribution and activity of individuals across the Valorous site. This enables us to
undertake robust environmental impact assessments ahead of our planned consent application submission in
2023.”

Matt Rohner, Senior Consultant at APEM, “APEM Ltd are delighted to be able to support Blue Gem Wind’s
proposed Valorous offshore wind farm with our best-in-class survey design approach. Imagery captured using
state-of-the-art cameras is of ultra-high (1.6cm) resolution, providing industry leading image quality that is
essential for species level identification.”

The Celtic Sea is poised to play a key role in Net Zero, the Committee on Climate Change’s 100GW offshore
wind target, and crucially, the UK Government’s target of 1 GW of floating wind by 2030. The ORE Catapult also
estimated that the first GW of floating wind in the Celtic Sea could potentially deliver over 3,000 jobs and
£682m in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall by 2030.

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