Exxon set to close Altona refinery, 350 jobs at risk

Exxon Mobil is set to shut its Melbourne fuel refinery at a likely cost of 350 jobs.

The move, which is tipped to be announced on Wednesday morning, will leave Australia with just two refineries.

ExxonMobil’s Altona refinery in Victoria looks slated for closure with the loss of up to 350 jobs.Credit:Luis Ascui

The Australian Financial Review broke the news late on Tuesday and an industry source, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to discuss the news in public, confirmed the refinery was set to close.

Workers were due to be formally told at a 9am meeting on site on Wednesday morning, the source said.

Exxon Mobil and the United Workers Union did not respond to inquiries late on Tuesday night.

Construction of the Altona refinery began in 1946 and it commenced operation in 1949.

In 2010, Australia had seven refineries and will now have just two after Exxon Mobil's move on Altona followed BP Australia's decision to shutter its Kwinana site in Western Australia.

The announcements mean the number of refineries operating in Australia will have halved since last year’s federal budget unveiled a $2.3 billion support program amid concern about the nation’s fuel security. That budget scheme was accelerated in December with funding brought forward by six months.

At the time, Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the strategy would create 1000 jobs.

Exxon Mobil had not publicly stated whether it would seek support from the government to keep the plant open.

The two remaining refineries are Viva Energy’s plant in Geelong, which is signed up to the government’s support scheme, and Ampol’s site at Lytton in Queensland.

A parliamentary library report published in December noted local refineries were "relatively small and old and have to compete against larger and more efficient refineries in the Asian region".

The report also noted there were concerns in some quarters that the loss of refining capability could leave Australia vulnerable to supply disruptions.

Local federal Labor MP Tim Watts said the news was a "jobs disaster" and questioned whether local chemical businesses that relied on the refinery would now be under a cloud.

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