By Jarrett Renshaw
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A team of former Wall Street oil traders have won a partial victory in their continuing legal dispute with oil major BP PLC over how to properly run a remote eastern Canadian refinery, according to court documents filed Thursday.
The legal fight, first reported by Reuters in March, stems from allegations leveled by BP that equity-backed NARL Refining violated its crude and product supply agreement when the refiner failed to maximize yields at the 115,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Come by Chance, Newfoundland.
Among other things, BP alleged that NARL ran the refinery at high rates when it was not economical, in order to exploit a unique clause in their contract that allowed NARL to earn a higher profit on oil refined in excess of 90,000 barrels.
The arbitration panel ruled late in August that NARL had no contractual obligation to run the refinery to the mutual benefit of both parties and tossed out that part of BP’s allegations.
“There are no words of any kind requiring to maximize refinery margins for the benefit of BP,” the ruling says of the refiner, which is operated by SilverPeak Financial Partners, formed by a group of Wall Street veterans.
However, the panel agreed to move forward with BP’s other allegation that NARL failed to provide required information, such as economic models, and to discuss possible crude slates, court documents show. Without that information, BP could not evaluate whether the refinery was running optimally.
Geoff Morrell, a senior vice president of U.S. communications and external affairs at BP, said the arbitration process has a long way to go and the company is confident that it will prevail on the remaining issues.
NARL declined comment.
Arbitration proceedings are typically private affairs, but the ruling was temporarily posted Thursday on a New York federal court website, before it was taken down at the request of BP. The judge overseeing the case has postponed any decisions on a related case brought by NARL until the arbitration proceedings have concluded.
At issue is a routine “tolling” arrangement for independent refineries that lack the trading operations and credit lines necessary to operate in the global market. BP supplied the crude to the refinery and took back roughly 82 percent of the refined fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, paying NARL a fixed “toll” of $9.45 per barrel on the first 90,000 barrels of oil put through each day. NARL could earn more than the toll revenue on barrels produced in excess of that figure.
The oil company alleges NARL ran the refinery at more than 90,000 bpd to capitalize on the incentive – a charge the arbitrators rejected.
In a counterclaim, NARL alleges that BP made only lesser grades of crude available, resulting in “significant and long-term damage” to refinery equipment, including a vacuum tower that had to be shut down abruptly.
The refinery owners have formed their own crude supply desk ahead of the expiration, sources have told Reuters.
The small commercial desk will rely largely on the spot crude market, but will also ink term deals, the two sources said.
(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Andrew Hay)