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Sinopec to invest in Bulgaria refinery upgrade

Sinopec Corp, Asia's top oil refiner, will invest to modernize Bulgaria's bankrupt oil refinery Plama, which is expected to restart production in the next several months.

Bulgarian-based Highway Logistic Centre bought the Balkan country's second-biggest refinery last year and said it would restart the outdated plant in 2008 to initially process about 600,000 tons (12,000 barrels per day) of crude oil a year.

The communist-era Plama has been idle since 1999.

“Sinopec are our main business partners. They will invest to upgrade and expand the production capacity to 2 million ton (40,000 bpd) of crude per year,” Highway Logistic Centre representative Ivailo Ivanov, told Reuters.

He declined to say whether Sinopec, or China Petroleum & Chemical Corp, would acquire a stake in Plama in return.

Ivanov also refused to say how much Sinopec will invest in the refinery in northern Bulgaria. He added that a Sinopec delegation will visit the country next week.

Plama's new owners have said they will invest between €20 million and €30 million ($44.46 million) to restart the refinery and then invest another €80 million to €120 million to add a reforming and a cracking unit.

Highway Logistic Centre says it has secured crude oil supplies from Russia. It is part of a holding company, which has stakes in Russian oilfields and business partners in Britain and China, Ivanov says.

The company acquired the debt-ridden Plama for 44.4 million levs ($33.8 million) at an auction last year.

The refinery had changed hands several times in the 1990s after its initial privatization. Critics say various owners had siphoned its funds, which culminated with its insolvency last year.

Energy analysts say growing fuel demand in central and eastern Europe in line with growing economies, mean more refining capacity is needed in the region. Companies in Romania and Poland also plan refinery expansions. 

Bulgaria's other oil refinery, Neftochim Burgas, owned by Russia's LUKOIL supplies about 80% of the country's motor fuels needs. (Reuters)