Total declares forces majeures on PX, OX, toluene at Gonfreville

14 January 2010 16:03  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS news)--French producer Total Petrochemicals is currently unable to manufacture paraxylene (PX), orthoxylene (OX) and toluene at its plant in Gonfreville because of a technical problem, a company source confirmed on Thursday.

The source said that the plant in France had suffered from a technical hitch at the end of November, after which the company had to declare forces majeures on all three units.

“We communicated the forces majeures to our customers more than a month ago, but currently we have no idea about the restart,” the source added. “This short shutdown is now getting longer than expected.”

In Gonfreville, Total has an annual capacity of 135,000 tonnes/year for PX, 110,000 tonnes/year for OX and 40,000 tonnes/year for toluene, data from the ICIS plants and projects database shows. 

It was also reported that the major chemicals producer was currently suffering from a strike at five out of its six refineries in France, after union leaders called for industrial action on Wednesday due to workers' fears about a permanent closure at one of Total’s refineries in Dunkirk, northern France.

The refinery problems, combined with the forces majeures at Gonfreville, did not seem to have an immediate impact on the European aromatics markets, most sources said.

Nevertheless, Total was noted buying a minimum of 5,000 tonnes of benzene over the past two days.

One trader explained: “If the strike continues it could of course impact [the markets], but at this stage I do not believe the two things are related.”

The source added that Total was already short on benzene in December, because it had been running its reformers at low rates due to weak gasoline demand and a lack of demand for blending components.

Another trader agreed when he said that the strike at Total’s refineries was “not directly affecting their benzene output”.

However, in the xylenes-related markets, most players said the forces majeures at Gonfreville had started to affect supply.

A PX buyer said: “We have a big problem with supply at the moment. The market was already tight before Total’s problems, but now it is getting serious.” At least two PX sellers confirmed they had no additional spot material available to sell on an ad hoc basis, confirming the market was in short supply. No imports were yet reported from the Asia region, either.

On Thursday, European spot January benzene deals were done at $1,115/tonne CIF (cost, insurance, freight) ARA (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp), two of which were reportedly bought by Total, while February was in a $5/tonne backwardation. PX was pegged at $1,030-1,050/tonne FOB (free on board) Rotterdam.

($1 = €0.69)

For more on all aromatics visit ICIS chemical intelligence
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By: Madelon Ten Cate
+44 20 8652 3214

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