A group of independent oil refiners called yesterday for quotas, import fees or some other sort of controls on imported petroleum products, which they said are endangering national security by driving many American refineries out of business.
"Prompt action must be taken to check the catastrophic impact of imports," said Matthew J. Talbot, president of Tosco Corp., at a press conference to announce the formation of the Independent Refiners Coalition to lobby for relief from imported competition.
"I think the oil industry in this country is following the same road the steel industry did a few years ago," said another member of the coalition, Apex Oil Co. President Paul Novelly.
The coalition, representing about 10 percent of the nation's refinery capacity, is so far virtually alone in the oil industry in its call for action on imports of gasoline, naptha and other products. Most major oil companies have not taken a position on the issue -- with the exception of Texaco, which says it, too, believes there is a problem with imported petroleum products -- and coalition officials conceded they had been unable to get any of the large companies to join their cause.
Many analysts believe the biggest oil companies are chary of calling for any kind of controls on oil supplies so soon after they lobbied for decontrol several years ago.
The refiners' position is opposed by many independent gasoline marketers, major customers of the independent refiners, who like the cheaper gasoline they can buy from foreign sources because it helps them keep their prices down and attract business. Ironically, coalition member Apex is the nation's largest purchaser of imported gasoline, according to Novelly, who said he was supporting limits on imports on behalf of his company's refining unit.
Analysts say controls on imports could add several cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline at the pump, but coalition members said the added cost would be worth it to reduce reliance on foreign petroleum. Gasoline imports now account for slightly less than 10 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption, but are expected to grow rapidly in coming years as Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern nations begin operating large refineries whose output could be targeted to the U.S. market.
Such reliance on foreign products could create a national security problem, coalition members claimed, by reducing the number of American refineries, making it difficult for the nation to produce its own petroleum products.