Retailers have been warned it could take a month for the Coryton oil

refinery to recover its full capacity after a fire at the site last month. Petroplus Holdings, the Swiss-based company which bought the Essex plant from BP earlier this year, said the refinery was producing less than half its usual output of 220,000 barrels-per-day after the blaze damaged a key production unit.

The blaze occurred on October 31, and Petroplus said preliminary findings indicated that it was localised in the Pentane Isomerization Unit Dehexanizer Column, which is mainly used to produce gasoline components.

In a statement, the company said: “Assessments have begun to determine the extent of the damage on this unit. Based on experience with these types of incidents, the downtime to repair this type of column would be expected to be about a month.

“Once further on-site assessment is completed the actual estimate of downtime will be determined and advised.

“The refinery is currently running unaffected units. While only the

Dehexanizer suffered damage, this key unit impacts operations of many other units within the refinery.”

The company said it was able to keep supplying customers with fuel due to its existing stocks, purchases from third parties, and supply from other Petroplus North Sea refineries. It expects this to continue until the full refinery is repaired.

Petroplus has five refiners in Europe, and Coryton is its biggest operation.It also has a refinery in Teeside.

Meanwhile, petrol stations in the UK were reporting shortages due to the fire. Shell confirmed it was not receiving its normal number of deliveries.

A Shell spokeswoman said: “We have had problems but this is a short term problem. “It’s possible that supply will be interrupted, especially in the area around Essex. Some garages in that area have experienced shortages. But we do not anticipate that this will impact at national level.

“We are working very hard to minimise the effect on retailers.”