Cepsa: The long goodbye of the first refinery in Spain |  Economy



No one who has visited Santa Cruz de Tenerife will have been able to avoid crossing their eyes, even glancingly, at the oldest oil refinery in Spain. A huge mass of more than 570,000 square meters of facilities from which, since 1930, most of the gasoline, diesel and kerosene consumed in the Canary Islands has come and which already has an expiration date: before 2030 it should be history. The installation, which slows down the expansion of the city to the south and one of its natural outlets to the sea, has begun to be dismantled this Monday, annexing its land to the city in what is expected to be one of the largest urban reorganizations in Europe .

Regardless of how you arrive —by air, by land or by sea—, it is literally impossible to get to the second most populous city in the archipelago without running into “the refinery”, as it is known colloquially —almost familiarly: it is generations that have lived with it—the locals. Born in what was once the suburbs, it has been completely surrounded by buildings for years, just a few steps from some of the main commercial arteries of Santa Cruz. The process will take years, almost a decade, but it is irrevocable: the urban landscape will no longer be dominated by a jumble of chimneys, tanks and hundreds of kilometers of pipes to make possible a widening that logic cries out for.

Almost a century after opening its doors -barely a year before the proclamation of the Second Republic- and with its activity reduced to storage for almost a decade, the technicians of Cepsa -the company that has operated it since the beginning of time — have given this Monday the starting signal for the tasks of uninstalling equipment and remediating the soil with a protocol act that sought to make visible the end of an era. All levels of the Administration have been represented in it (the central and regional governments, the Cabildo and the City Council) and EL PAÍS has attended by invitation.

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It will be a long goodbye and in stages. The last barrels of gasoline, diesel and kerosene left its facilities in June 2014, leaving behind the iconic image of the chimneys and the associated bad smells. Since then, all the fuel consumed by the archipelago comes from outside: from the Peninsula or from abroad. However, one last step is still missing: the construction of the deposits in the location agreed between the oil company and the local authorities, some 50 kilometers to the south.

“Time passes, and this was a long-awaited transformation. A space will be opened for Holy Cross of the 21st century”, affirmed this Monday at the act the president of the Cabildo de Tenerife, Pedro Martín. “A land is not delivered without more: a land is delivered that for years has been used to produce fuel and that is converted into a space that will be clean and exemplary”, completed the president of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres. 70% of the space that the city will gain will be for public use.

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“We knew this moment was going to come, but it is painful. Although we know that it is a necessary step and that the world comes in a different way, our little heart is here,” says José Quintana, an employee of the refinery for 25 years and the son of another worker, in front of one of the chimneys no longer in use. It was, for years, one of the most coveted occupations on the islands. Asked by this newspaper, a Cepsa spokesman has promised that the 150 people who still work at the facilities will continue in their jobs for the duration of the dismantling to, “progressively”, be relocated to “other work centers” of the company in the Canary Islands or on the Peninsula.

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The iconic Tenerife refinery —a reference for many Canarians, such as Quintana, but also an emblem of a fossil world that is slowly being left behind— will take time to disappear. The most optimistic dismantling plans point to 2025. By then, Cepsa should have been able to completely move its fuel storage center to the new location. But it will not be until five years later when the area will begin to resemble the final result that the Canarian authorities are looking for: a far-reaching reorganization of the city. “It is the greatest opportunity for urban transformation in Spain today and probably also the most important in Europe. We must be an example to the world, building a sustainable city where today there are tanks, chimneys and pipes”, affirms the mayor of Santa Cruz, José Manuel Bermúdez.

The cradle of Cepsa

For Cepsa, the refinery, the Canary archipelago, Tenerife and even Mount Teide —where its logo is inspired— is much more than just another branch of its business. It is something almost foundational. And without the almost: the one in Santa Cruz was the company’s first facility and for two decades the only refining facility in Spain, the seed of what, over time, would become the second largest Spanish oil company.

“We were born here almost a century ago and the islands are part of our DNA, but now we are rewriting our future with a new strategy with which we aspire to be leaders in green energy and sustainable mobility, as well as a benchmark in the energy transition”, he remarked. its CEO, Maarten Wetselaar. There is still time for that future to become a reality, but the closure of the Santa Cruz refinery is the best example of the change in the energy axis. And it opens a “pioneering” path, in the words of the Third Vice President of the Government and Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, along which other large refineries and industrial plants will travel that the growth of cities has been annexing to their domains.

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