US investors looking to buy one of Northern Ireland's main oil terminals: Concern prices could rise
BP deal may affect consumer prices
US investors could buy one of Northern Ireland's main oil terminals, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
And there are concerns that the sale of the BP terminal at Airport Road West could affect petrol and heating oil prices. There are four terminals through which oil-based products enter Northern Ireland. Three of these are based in Belfast, with the fourth site in Londonderry.
The terminals are the only importers of oil-based products to Northern Ireland, and act as suppliers to the various fuel distributors across the province.
The largest of its kind in Northern Ireland is the huge site in Belfast, which features several large oil containers.
"The (new) owner would have some market power, and if they chose to improve their profit margin, that could work its way down to you and I as customers," economist John Simpson said.
And he said if the new owner stopped running fuel through the facility, it could instead come from further afield - potentially pushing up the prices.
BP is selling off a string of fuel storage terminals as well as its stake in a large pipeline as part of a shake-up of its operations in the UK. It's due to sell off storage terminals at Belfast, Hamble and Northampton, as well its stake in the Kingsbury terminal.
The terminal stores petrol, diesel and jet fuel.
The sale of BP's Belfast site and others in the UK would leave it with just two such sites.
The oil giant has around 45 staff at the terminals, and has already said it hopes workers will be kept on by whoever takes on the sites.
"It is close to being a monopoly in terms of the supply," Mr Simpson said.
"If it (oil) wasn't coming through a Belfast storage unit, it could be coming through Dublin and shipped by road.
"It's a critical piece of the apparatus. I would imagine whoever was to buy it would want to keep it as a distribution system."
However, Mr Simpson said it had been around 40 to 50 years since the terminal in Belfast had undergone any major investment. "Some of the bits may be at the end of the line," he said.
"But they (new owners) can't push the price up by too much, as it would be cheaper to import through some other port."
Tom Kool of Oilprice.com said: "I think it's too early to say with certainty that prices of home/business heating oil could be affected.
"The new owner could decide to slightly up the prices, but because of brimming storage elsewhere in Europe it seems like the prices for heating oil will remain subdued in the near-term."
Other fuel sites include one in Londonderry, which can hold 88,000 tonnes of fuel, along with NuStar and Emo in Belfast.
BP didn't wish to comment further on potential buyers interested in taking over the Belfast terminal.