"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
The Whitegate oil refinery in Cork (pictured), owned by ConocoPhillips, swung sharply into the black in 2010, posting profits of $17.7m (€13.49m) as turnover soared to $2.2bn from $1.64bn a year earlier. The profit compared to an $11.8m loss in 2009.
Accounts just processed by the Companies Office detail the dramatic turnaround in 2010. The improved performance came even as the US-owned company said it had been subjected to a "volatile refining margin environment" that year due to unstable economic conditions.
The directors note that turnover rose primarily due to the increased costs of crude feedstocks. They also point out that gross profit at the operation, which is Ireland's only oil refinery, rose to $51.1m in 2010 from $27m a year earlier.
The company also approved a $36m investment to construct a new acid plant that was due for commissioning last December.
Bord Gais has also built a €400m, 440 megawatt gas power plant on the Whitegate site. It opened in 2010. ConocoPhillips said the facility is generating lease income and that the refinery has also seen "significant economic benefit" from the natural gas connections, enabling it to substitute more expensive fuels.
The Whitegate refinery has the capacity to process about 71,000 barrels of oil a day. Most of the oil it refines comes from the North Sea or north Africa.
In 2010, it also produced 82 million litres of biodiesel at the plant, benefiting from a tax relief scheme that has since expired.
The Whitegate refinery employs about 150 people and paid wages and salaries totalling €19.5m in 2010.
ConocoPhillips put the Whitegate refinery up for sale in early 2007 but the plan was shelved later that year. It said it saw "more value in continuing to operate the facility than in selling it". ConocoPhillips agreed to maintain the refinery, which was originally owned by the State, until 2016, but it's not yet certain if it will continue to operate it after that.