June 14, 2011 at 12:00 am #2235
Last year’s gulf spill has ARCO selling off California assets
By Rick Daysog firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Monday, Jun. 13, 2011
When workers dismantled the ARCO corporate logo at the former Arco Arena earlier this year, it served as a fitting symbol of the company’s California retrenchment. Known for selling cheap gasoline and for its 24-hour ampm convenience stores, ARCO has been a dominant player in the state’s petroleum industry for decades. It is California’s largest gasoline distributor, with more than 20 percent of the market.
But since last year’s deadly Gulf of Mexico oil spill, parent BP PLC has either sold off or put up for sale most of its California assets. They include:
. The BP refinery in Carson, which is one of the two largest in California with about 1,200 employees. The plant, whose sale is expected to be completed next year, processes 265,000 barrels of oil per day, or enough to supply 25 percent of the gasoline used in the Los Angeles area.
. ARCO’s gasoline stations in the lucrative Southern California market, which used to be the firm’s home base.
. A 50 percent interest in Hydrogen Energy California, which is building a $2 billion, ultraclean power plant in Kern County. Last month, a Massachusetts company acquired BP’s and mining conglomerate Rio Tinto’s interests in the yet-to-be-built plant, which has been awarded more than $300 million in federal funding.
. In March, BP sold its oil terminals at the ports of Sacramento and Stockton to Houston-based Buckeye Partners L.P. as part of a $165 million deal that included all of BP’s U.S. terminals and pipelines.
After the deals are completed next year, ARCO and BP’s remaining California assets will include gasoline stations in Northern California and its ampm convenience stores.
“There’s been so much economic pain for them from the gulf disaster that they have been shedding assets and are looking to shed even more assets,” said Gordon Schremp, senior fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission.
The divestitures are notable because ARCO used to be one of California’s largest companies, and its history is ingrained in the economic history of the state. The company traces its California roots to 1905 and the founding of Richfield Petroleum in Los Angeles.
With the post-World War II boom, Richfield emerged as a leading gasoline producer in California. It later merged with an East Coast company, Atlantic Petroleum. The new company was called Atlantic Richfield Co., or ARCO.
The company was a powerhouse in California’s business community and in Sacramento politics. It remained so even after BP acquired it in 2000.
“It hurts my pride to see a company I so adored disappear,” said George Babikian, who served as president of ARCO’s refining and marketing operations before retiring in 1993. “It was a great company.”
Oftentimes, companies leaving California or scaling back their operations blame what they describe as the state’s high cost of doing business or its overregulation, but the exit of BP and ARCO stems mostly from the 2010 well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and resulted in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The disaster released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the gulf and has cost BP more than $40 billion.
BP officials did not return calls seeking comment for this story. But in conference calls with investment analysts earlier this year, company executives said the Carson refinery and the Southern California gas stations would require significant investments to remain competitive.
Joseph Tovey, a New York-based oil industry analyst and consultant, noted that profit for the oil-refining and gasoline-sales business has been around 6 percent of investment. But on the exploration and drilling side of the business – where BP makes most of its money – the rate of return has been in the 20 percent range, he said. Therefore, it makes sense for BP to focus on the more profitable side of the business.
“This is a strategic decision and has nothing to do with the California economy or the regulatory issues,” Iain Conn, BP’s chief executive for refining and marketing, said in a February conference call.
BP’s divestitures aren’t expected to result in higher gasoline prices in California, experts said.
Jeremy Bulow, a Stanford University business professor, said buyers for the refinery and the gas stations will mostly likely have to come from out of state. Any company already doing significant business here would likely run into antitrust and other regulatory challenges, he said.
Under such a sale, many of the long-term supply contracts between the refinery and local gas station operators likely would remain. Instead of raising wholesale prices, a new investor would try to run the refinery more efficiently than BP or Arco, said Bulow, who has studied BP’s 2000 acquisition of ARCO.
ARCO CALIFORNIA FACTS
Founded: Richfield Petroleum was founded in 1905 in Los Angeles. Atlantic Richfield Co. – ARCO – was formed when Richfield merged with Atlantic Petroleum in 1966.
Parent: BP PLC
Gas stations in California: 963
Gas sales in California: $3 billion
Other assets: a 265,000- barrel-per-day refinery in Carson, near Los Angeles, and ampm convenience stores at ARCO gasoline stations
June 14, 2011 at 12:05 am #5042
Here is update on BP’s asset sell-off to help cover its cost for the Gulf Oil Spill. Not suprising that most of the California assets are ARCO assets it acquired in 2000 and are Downstream in nature.
Not many majors will be willing to sign up for assets subject to Calfornia’s over-regulation, anti-oil and anti-trust issues. A lot of the existing long term local station supply contracts are expected to remain but I do not think they can keep prices as low given that BP represented 20% California market and the next owner will not.
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