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HomeCommentaryBlogsAnalysis: Roogadoo And The Case Of The Phantom Oil Refinery

Analysis: Roogadoo And The Case Of The Phantom Oil Refinery

Jinkies! USVI fires up the Mystery Machine to understand the Limetree sale. (Illustration by Mat Probasco using photos from Bill Kossler and tonycoates2003)

The truly weird statement from presumed co-buyers of the Limetree Bay Refinery — that they did not in fact buy it — has U.S. Virgin Islands readers and news reporters stumped.

West Indies Petroleum Limited and Port Hamilton Refining and Transportation were the winning bidders at the December bankruptcy auction of the refinery and they engaged in protracted courtroom wrangling to prove so.

But on Wednesday, WIPL said such news reports were wrong, that they didn’t buy it and weren’t able to say why.

“So a ghost buy it,” one reader wrote on a Source social media page.

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While reporters dug through court records and scattered phone messages that will never be returned, Source readers analyzed the non-purchase purchase on social media. If Scooby-doo is going to pull a rubber mask off someone, Source readers are ready, noting the bankruptcy, bankruptcy auction, and subsequent legal battles were shady at best. We all have questions.

“Considering they say they didn’t buy it, would that not make the auction purchase invalid?”

We don’t know. WIPL claims they were an early participant in the bidding but didn’t follow through. If Port Hamilton Refining won based on WIPL’s participation, does WIPL’s denial invalidate the sale? Who has a Scooby snack?

There are plenty of reasons to back out of buying a large, problem-plagued oil refinery in 2022, even with fuel prices higher than a Shaggy and Scooby triple-decker pastrami, parrot fish, and pepper sauce sandwich. It takes years for a refinery to ramp up. One Source reader linked to a Washington Post article saying even the modest refinery output increase proposed by President Joe Biden could take three years to get going. With the rate the world is switching off fossil fuels for more renewable energies, the time-frame to recoup costs is narrower in the long run. There is still plenty of money out there for oil investors. But for how long?

And that’s if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t designate it a super fund site. Washington’s involvement doesn’t end at the EPA either. There’s an alphabet soup of agencies that need to approve operations at such a plant.

One reader thought WIPL had buyers’ remorse.

“They are using the We-didn’t-buy-it/You-bought-it defense,” they joked. “One of their top executives was quoted as saying: No take backsies.”

Social media being a pretty trashy place in general, it didn’t take long before one reader twisted the Jamaica-based WIPL’s unusual actions into an attack on Vice-President Kamala Harris, whose father is Jamaican. The provocateur later acknowledged there was no known connection. Trashy. (By the way, the vice president’s father Donald J. Harris isn’t just some guy. He’s a celebrated economist and Stanford University professor emeritus.)

At least one reader thought WIPL’s odd about-face was a move by Wall Street insiders while another thought would-be investors were fooling themselves.

“We need to recognize that this, as an oil refinery, is functionally obsolete and re-imagine what we want this to be. It’s time to harness the federal money for local jobs in the cleanup effort and ask that this be declared a superfund site. It’s time to remember that this was once one of the most beautiful and vibrant natural places in the Caribbean with manatees and mangroves, turtles, flamingos, and full of fish. This is our chance to evaluate what we want,” they wrote.

Some readers hoped the WIPL position would cause further delay in full refining functions.

“Am relieved that for now no chemicals will be released over the people in the west end,” a reader wrote.

Other readers were disgusted the refinery existed at all.

“I hate that there is a refinery on such a beautiful island. Anything that is near that place dies. Not at all environment friendly or safe.”

For the past several months, would-be developers have floated plans to turn the former Hovensa site into a full-time container port and/or boat repair dock, perhaps aided by creating a special USVI ship registry separate from the U.S. mainland.

The answer doesn’t have to be that complicated. Use the land for profit or open it up for pleasure, one reader wrote.

“Get rid of it and build a water park instead since a’yo don’t know what the hell to do with it. If open it or not, then just get rid of it and build something for the kids in the island. We need entertainment for the kids,” they wrote.

It’s hard to argue that looking down on that bay wouldn’t be a whole lot prettier if it were kids playing and not smoke belching.

But other Virgin Islanders reacted with dismay. The refinery was a major employer and, like it or not, a defining feature of St. Croix.

Many readers turned their ire toward elected officials, blaming everyone from the governor to senators to that spooky old man who ran the haunted Carnival ride. It’s hard to blame Virgin Islanders for doing so. Government house released a statement Thursday morning “clarifying the ownership of the Limetree Bay Refinery on St. Croix.”

A careful reading of the statement gets to the heart of WIPL position but doesn’t completely answer what happened. The Bryan team’s reading of the court documents is that WIPL and Port Hamilton Refining won the bid in December but only Port Hamilton took ownership.

“So while both WIPL and Port Hamilton were purchasers under the agreement, the court filings indicate that title to the assets and contracts was in Port Hamilton from the onset,” they wrote. “As usual, the Government will continue to monitor developments at the refinery.”

If that starts to make sense and then doesn’t it’s because we don’t run into this sort of thing every day. If you and I tell everyone we’re going to buy a $62 million extra-large pizza pie with anchovies and pickles and soursop ice cream on top together … and we make a big show of getting to the front of the line and getting the order just right together … but then only I eat the pizza … that’s not normal. That’s weird.

Editor’s note: Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

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