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Merril Boulton: Refining at a cost

Amazing to visit the Phillips 66 Humber Refinery last month, and see the complex web of miles of pipework close up (see industry focus page 24), and wonder at the millions of chemical reactions that are constantly taking place within such dramatic structures.

You are also made intensely aware of the volatility of the products being handled in such a place, with safety and security of the site the highest priority I'm pretty sure the manuals for running such a place would stack up as high as the cooling towers. As our hosts the refinery's general manager, Julian Stoll, and optimisation manager Ray Crisp, told us: "The most important job we do is keep the plant safe. If we don't get it right, we don't stay in business very long."

The Humber refinery is described as being one of the most complex and efficient in Europe; it holds eight days' supply; and buys around 15m worth of crude every day; hundreds of millions of pounds have and continue to be invested in it in order to keep it safe, efficient, and in business. It is positioned for the long term.

There used to be 19 refineries in the UK, now there are seven the Murco refinery at Milford Haven sounds like it has just been saved from going the way of the other 12. The world and its demands are constantly changing and competitive pressures have taken their toll. But it's important that refineries in the UK are allowed to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world, in terms of the cost of legislation, which other global markets, including the US, do not have to bear.

Christ Hunt, UKPIA's director general, (see column, page 7) says the seven UK refineries will require around 11.4bn solely to comply with UK and EU environmental legislation to 2030, which could see the closure of further UK refineries and thus greater dependence on imports for key products such as diesel. And much higher prices no doubt...

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Weekly retail fuel prices: 4 November 2019
RegionDieselLPGSuper ULUL
East130.9367.90138.13126.75
East Midlands130.73139.73126.64
London130.73139.60127.04
North East129.5562.90137.10125.31
North West129.9963.90138.40126.48
Northern Ireland128.05133.57124.33
Scotland130.6059.30137.24126.23
South East131.4566.90139.66127.42
South West130.7674.90137.94126.68
Wales129.84136.06125.42
West Midlands130.4059.90137.63126.57
Yorkshire & Humber130.02139.47126.29

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