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Oil workers strike since 1980 enters second day

The strike by oil workers at plants accounting for 10 per cent of US refining capacity entered a second day Monday in the biggest walkout since 1980. Crude futures gained.

[SAN FRANCISCO] The strike by oil workers at plants accounting for 10 per cent of US refining capacity entered a second day Monday in the biggest walkout since 1980. Crude futures gained.

The United Steelworkers union that represents employees at more than 200 refineries, terminals, pipelines and chemical plants stopped work Sunday at nine sites after failing to agree on a renewed labor contract. The union rejected five offers made by Royal Dutch Shell Plc on behalf of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp since talks began Jan 21.

The USW hasn't called a strike nationally since 1980, when a stoppage lasted three months. While only one of the nine plants has curbed production amid the stoppage, a full walkout of USW workers would threaten to disrupt as much as 64 per cent of US fuel output. Shell and union officials began negotiations amid the biggest collapse in oil prices since 2008.

"If the strike escalates, that would be detrimental to the oil price," David Lennox, a resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney, said by phone. "It will put high US production out on the market and there is nowhere for it to go."

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil added 43 cents, or 0.9 per cent, to US$48.67 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:58am local time, erasing an earlier decline. It jumped 8.3 per cent on Friday, the most since June 2012. Gasoline for March delivery added 3.1 per cent to US$1.5253 a gallon and the diesel contract for the same month gained 1.3 per cent to US$1.7222.

The refineries on strike can produce 1.82 million barrels of fuel a day, data compiled by Bloomberg show. They span the US, from Tesoro Corp's plants in Martinez, California; Carson, California; and Anacortes, Washington, to Marathon Petroleum Corp's Catlettsburg complex in Kentucky to three sites in Texas, according to the USW's statement.

In Texas, Shell's Deer Park complex, Marathon's Galveston Bay plant and LyondellBasell Industries NV's Houston facility are affected, according to the union. LyondellBasell activated its work-continuation plan, according to spokesman George Smalley on Sunday.

Tesoro will shut down remaining process units at its Martinez, California, refinery in the next 24 hours, Destin Singleton, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. The 166,000 barrel-a-day facility already had about half its processing capacity offline for planned maintenance, according to Singleton.

More refineries are standing by to join the sites on strike, according to two people familiar with the plan who asked not to be identified because the information isn't public.

Pay Increases Shell remained "committed to resolving our differences with USW at the negotiating table and hope to resume negotiations as early as possible," Ray Fisher, a spokesman for The Hague, Netherlands-based company, said by e-mail on Saturday.

The USW asked employers for "substantial" pay increases, stronger rules to prevent fatigue and measures to keep union workers rather than contract employees on the job, Gary Beevers, the USW international vice president who manages the union's oil sector, said in an interview in Pittsburgh in October.

Brandon Daniels, a spokesman for Marathon, confirmed work stoppages at its Catlettsburg refinery and Galveston Bay plant. The walkout also includes the company's Houston Green cogeneration plant in Texas and Shell's Deer Park chemical plant.

Tesoro received a strike notification from its Mandan, North Dakota, refinery, in addition to plants in Martinez, California, Carson, California and Anacortes, Washington, said Singleton on Sunday.

A notice allows workers to prepare for a walkout and doesn't necessarily mean a strike will occur, according to the union. The remaining USW-represented sites are operating under rolling, 24-hour contract extensions, the USW said.

Gasoline in New York was at a premium of US$15.55 a barrel to crude at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for WTI contracts. That's the highest profit from making the motor fuel since September.

"There will be a knee-jerk reaction in gasoline and diesel prices because we don't know how long this is going to be or how extended it might be," Carl Larry, Houston-based director of oil and gas at Frost & Sullivan, said by phone Sunday.

All of BP Plc's facilities with USW-represented workforces are now operating under rolling 24-hour extensions, Scott Dean, a spokesman for the London-based company. Shell activated a contingency plan to continue operations at the Deer Park refinery, Fisher said on Saturday.

Refiners' shares on the Standard & Poor's 500 have more than doubled since the beginning of 2012, when the steelworkers last negotiated an agreement. US fuel producers have been cashing in on the biggest-ever domestic oil boom, which has helped drive oil prices almost 50 per cent lower in 2014.