The Netherlands: Working While Waiting

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Although Middle East oil production is near its prewar level, the refineries of Western Europe will continue to feel the pinch for some time to come. Reason: until the Suez Canal is un plugged, oil tankers must take a two-week detour around the Cape of Good Hope. At Rotterdam's Europoort, whose massive refineries get 70% of their oil from the Middle East, companies have dipped into reserves while eagerly awaiting the homeward-bound tankers. "They're out there floating around somewhere," says Theo P. van den Bergh, general manager of Shell Netherlands Refining Co., "and we're waiting, waiting, waiting."

Patience has never been a virtue of the ambitious Rotterdammers. Since World War II, when 35% of its port facilities was leveled by the Germans, the Dutch city has spent $200 million to build a modern gateway to Europe. Between 1960 and 1966, Rotterdam's oil throughput has soared from 215.4 million bbl. annually to 453.6 million. Making this possible is Europoort's strategic location: five industrialized nations, with a total population of 168 million, are within 400 miles. Refined oil is loaded into trucks and rail cars, hauled inland by barge along the Rhine and Meuse rivers or transshipped by vessel. Crude oil can also be sent through a pipeline that cuts cross-country to Frankfurt. Next year a new pipe line to the Ruhr promises to pump 40 million tons annually, which will double the present line's capacity.

Confidence & Cooperation. Credit for Europoort's amazing progress rests squarely with Rotterdam's politicians and businessmen. Rather than wait for a blessing by the national government at The Hague, they have gone ahead with plans in a fait accompli fashion. Last year, for example, the Rotterdammers decided to deepen the port's sea channel to accommodate tankers up to 225,000 tons (present capacity is 130,000). The first of these giants is expected at the end of this year, and the entire project should be completed by late 1969. Typically, by the time The Hague gave its nod, the dredging for the $25 million project had already begun.

The city officials' confidence has a firm financial basis. Five oil companies —Shell, Esso, Gulf, British Petroleum and Chevron—have zealously backed their every scheme. In response to the channel deepening, four have ordered no fewer than 82 tankers of the 175,000 to 225,000-ton class. And on land, they have invested more than $1 billion in facilities, about a third of it in chemical works and the balance in oil.

Within the past three weeks, the companies have kicked off several new development programs. Shell began expanding its 20 million-ton refinery to 25 million, which will make it the largest in the world. At about the same time, Esso said that it would double its refining capacity from 8,000,000 tons to 16 million tons, and British Petroleum opened a $69 million refinery and designated Europoort its major stock and storage point in Europe. Finally, last week Gulf announced that it would build a $70 million chemical plant to manufacture polyethylene products.