Ruakaka residents fear Marsden Point oil refinery could be closed for good

Residents of a small Northland town fear one of their community's biggest employers will soon follow the fate of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

Ruakaka, near Whangarei, is home to many of the hundreds of workers employed by the Marsden Point oil refinery - which could be about to close for good.

On the white sand of Northland's Marsden Point sits the country's only oil refinery. International oil arrives here and is refined into fuel for cars and planes.

But workers fear cuts are coming.

"I think there's a lot of unease and anxiety around what's happening with the larger companies around here like the refinery," says Shaun Damora, from the Bream Bay Community Support Trust.

The company that owns it, Refining New Zealand, has launched a strategic review assessing its future.

Of the most extreme scenarios, Refining New Zealand could look to close down its entire oil refinery in Northland, that would put an end to the country's only oil refinery.

"What we're working through is the detailed planning for what those options look like, discussing it with our customers, working with our employees," Refining New Zealand CEO Naomi James says.

It's already shut down the refinery for six weeks because there's excess car and jet fuel after the COVID lockdown.

The longer-term problem is that's it's cheaper to import the fuel already refined.

James says the effect on the companies margins has been "significant".

Also significant is the refinery's contribution to Northland's economy. It makes up about 9 percent of annual GDP in the region.

"We have a lot of people who live here in Ruakaka who work for the refinery, but not just that, there's a lot of businesses here whose activity involves some work around the refinery," one local told Newshub.

And the fact that this could soon become nothing more than a storage facility, has community leaders on edge.

"I'm very concerned for the community in terms of that job loss, and where to next," Damora says.

Everyone in Ruakaka knows someone who works at the refinery.

No workers would speak to Newshub on camera, saying they're waiting to find out more from their employer but the bottom line is clear.

"There's certainly a number of challenges with what's happening globally and certainly some disadvantages that we have relative to our international competitors," James says.

Disadvantages that could devastate the community that's grown up around this Northland landmark.