Heads roll in Chevron sale debacle

Summer Jacobs

Oil giant Chevron remains tight-lipped about its plans to sell a 75 percent stake in its South African business, which includes the refinery in Milnerton.

The company, which has a head office in Century City, says the sale is in line with a three-year asset sales programme it announced in 2014. Its president for international products Mark Nelson said: “This demonstrates Chevron’s continuing focus on balancing our global portfolio with our long-term business priorities, and it is aligned with our previously announced $15 billion divestment programme.”

But more than that, Chevron wasn’t saying, and questions Tabletalk sent to the company about employee job security under new ownership, among other things, were met by a brief statement from Chevron Global: “In January, Chevron Global Energy Inc. (CGEI) announced a decision to solicit expressions of interest for its 75 percent shareholding in Chevron South Africa Proprietary Limited. We have communicated earlier that it will be a lengthy process. As a matter of policy, CGEI does not disclose details of commercial activities, and has no further comment to make at this time”.

Tabletalk also asked how many people Chevron employed at its refinery and head office, how staff felt about the sale, what the conditions of sale in terms of Chevron’s employees were, how long the sale process would take and how many parties expressed interest in buying the company.

Controversy surrounded the sale last month when the Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF) made an unauthorised bid to buy Chevron assets. This led to the resignation of the fund’s chairman Riaz Jawoodien and acting CEO Sibusiso Gamede.

The SSF, which is part of the Central Energy Fund (CEF), is the guardian of the country’s crude oil stocks. The CEF and SFF report to Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson. On Friday July 1, the CEF confirmed reports about the bid in a statement which read: “The board established that these reports were correct and that the actions of SFF did not comply with governance requirements.

The CEF Board have accepted the resignation with immediate effect, of the chairman and the acting CEO of SFF and have resolved to urgently address the gaps in governance compliance at SFF and across the CEF Group of companies. The CEF Board regrets the impact of this occurrence to Chevron SA, who are a valued industry partner. The group further regrets the perceived misalignment with the Minister of Energy and the Department of Energy.”

Andy Birkenshaw, chairman of the northern community air monitoring task group said he is not concerned about who buys Chevron as long as they abide by the National Environment Management Air Quality Act of 2004.

Mr Birkenshaw, who used to be the Table View Ratepayers’ Association (TVRA) spokesperson on the environment, said: “In 1994, our focus was to get the refinery to clean up their act. They were releasing between 48 to 52 tons of sulphur dioxide into the air per day.

“When we saw that nothing was going to happen, we focused on working on the government to bring about change and linked up with non-profit organisations and other communities in the country where they were experiencing similar situations such as in Durban and the Vaal Triangle. Eventually, we addressed Parliament and got the National Environment Management Air Quality Act of 2004 passed. The new act allows them to release up to 22 tons of sulphur dioxide a day but they average on 18 tons a day.”

Mandy Da Matta, chairwoman of the Table View Ratepayers’ Association (TVRA) said the association had in the past “acted very vociferously” to ensure the refinery stayed within acceptable health standards.

”The struggle for credible air pollution legislation was a struggle to take hold of the constitutional right that everyone has ‘to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being’,” she said.

Ms Da Matta said the TVRA had been “at loggerheads” with the refinery, then called Caltex, for years to force the company to reduce its pollution emissions and were instrumental in getting the Air Quality Act through Parliament in 2004 and an amendment in 2013.

“The actions of the ratepayers’ organisation was a huge contributing factor in unifying the entire community to a common cause,” said Ms Da Matta.

– Additional reporting IOL