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For decades, crude flowing from Russia has been delivered to a giant refinery in Schwedt, an industrial town on the Oder coast in Germany, providing jobs for thousands of workers and a reliable source of fuel, jet fuel and heating oil for Berlin residents.

Now, as European Union member states struggle to agree to the terms of an oil embargo to punish Moscow for its aggression on Ukraine, the Schwedt refinery has become the main stumbling block to Germany’s efforts to break the its reliance on Russian oil. The prospect alarmed 1,200 refinery employees.

Germany relies on Russia for about a third of its oil, and Robert Habeck, the economy minister and vice-chancellor, has spent weeks preparing for an embargo, traveling from the United Arab Emirates. to Washington to Warsaw to find other sources of crude oil.

“The last third is the problem,” Mr. Habeck said in a video aimed at explaining the situation to the Germans. And most of this Russian oil goes through the Schwedt refinery.

The refinery is a menacing symbol of how Germany’s oil and gas needs are tied to the giant exporting its energy to the east. The PCK refinery-the name is a nod to their East German origins as a state-owned “Petrolchemisches Kombinat” or Petrochemical Combine-is owned by Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company. It is connected to the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline, one of the longest in the world, which carries oil from Siberian wells to Western Europe.

And it remains an integral part of Germany’s energy needs, producing fuel for Berlin – Germany’s largest city – and neighboring regions, including parts of Poland. Finding enough oil to replace the 12 million tonnes of crude processed each year in Schwedt – via German and Polish ports in the north – is just a piece of the puzzle, as Rosneft told German officials that there is none. this interest in operating the refinery using non-Russian oil.

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To address the issue, Germany’s parliament last week approved a law that would make it easier for the government to seize critical foreign-owned infrastructure to prevent a national emergency. If the oil embargo passes, German officials say the new law will allow Berlin to ensure an adequate supply of petroleum products until another company is seen to take a stake in Rosneft.

Shell, Europe’s largest energy company, which holds a 37.5% stake in PCK, said recently that it would support the refinery, “even at the cost of economic losses to maintain supply in the region”. . Shell sought last year to sell its stake in the refinery and Rosneft decided to take it, but Germany’s economic ministry, which weighs in on the political and strategic aspects of foreign investment, has not yet been approved.

Another energy company, Alcmene, which is part of private British energy holding Liwathon Group, has expressed interest in investing in Schwedt. “We can ensure the security of supply and full utilization of the PCK refinery through German ports” without government subsidies, Alcmene said in an emailed statement.

CreditKatrin Streicher for The New York Times

Chancellor Olaf Scholz clarified that he is aware of the concerns surrounding the refinery and considers securing its future a priority.

“We are looking very closely at how this can actually work,” he said at a recent party meeting in the state of Brandenburg. “We will also make sure that employees are not left behind to organize themselves.”

Fearing impending layoffs, hundreds of workers, many wearing CPK’s official fluorescent orange and forest green colors, marched on the company’s canteen earlier this month for a town hall meeting with Mr Habeck.

Like other regions of the former East Germany, Schwedt experienced widespread unemployment after the fall of communism. Memories of 25% unemployment still persist in the region.

Moreover, the refinery is not only a source of oil and revenue, it is also the heart of the city’s identity. Flattened by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, the advent of the pipeline – its name, Druzhba, means friendship with the Russian – and the refinery in the late 1960s attracted thousands of workers and their families, attracted by secure jobs. The PCK’s slogan is: “We moved Berlin and Brandenburg!”

Today, about one-tenth of the town’s 30,000 residents have secure union jobs in the refinery and in support industries. Many workers took advantage of the meeting with Mr. Habeck to question the government’s strategy.

CreditJens Schlueter/Agence France-Presse-Getty Images

“Why should we take a business partner who for decades has been reliable and consistently delivered, and impose an embargo on it?” said a man who identified himself as working at the refinery for 27 years.

“My real request is to keep the Druzhba pipeline completely free of embargo,” said another employee, who identified herself as a mother of three young children. “There is no alternative that pays off.”

Journalists were asked not to identify the employees who spoke at the event, to protect their privacy.

Mr. Habeck tried to reassure the crowd that the refinery would continue to operate. “If everything works as it should,” crude from Norway or the Middle East could be shipped from the ports of Rostock and Gdansk, Poland, both of which are connected to the refinery via pipelines.

At the same time, he admitted, there are some points in the process where it can have a problem.

The PCK facility, like other refineries, is designed to process this particular type of crude from Russia. Crude from other countries has to be mixed with oil held in reserve tanks on the northwest coast of Germany to create a suitable mix.

Getting this oil reserve into the Rostock pipeline would require a seven -day sea voyage, as there was no pipeline crossing the former border that divided East and West Germany, and the country’s main rail freight operator had virtually no tank wagon. .

Another potential complication: the Polish government refused to cooperate with Russian entities, and it told German officials that as long as Rosneft had an interest in the refinery, no oil would enter from Gdansk.

CreditKatrin Streicher for The New York Times

“We’re not entirely sure what we’re doing,” Habeck told refinery workers. “But at least it was carefully discussed and thought through.”

Eventually, Mr. Habeck and local officials wanted to see the refinery move away from fossil fuel and focus on renewable energy processing. Over the past few years, PCK has invested in the development of synthetic fuel with an emphasis on hydrogen. Verbio, a company that produces ethanol from local sources, operates the refinery site, which provides bioenergy to the city’s heating system.

Berlin officials highlighted the economic appeal of the surrounding region, pointing to Tesla’s recently completed assembly plant and Intel’s announcement of a $ 19 billion chip manufacturing plant. Both companies are attracted to an abundance of renewable energy, says Carsten Schneider, Chancellor Scholz’s East Liaison Germany, who also spoke to the people of Schwedt.

“I assured them that the German government would not only abandon them, but would work, both for a short-term solution to secure oil from elsewhere and for long-term restructuring towards regenerative energy production,” he said.

City Mayor Annekathrin Hoppe said she wants to set up a campus for start-ups, incubators and other energy innovators near the refinery to advance the transition to green energy production. But, he said, that would require “sums in the millions or billions.”

CreditKatrin Streicher for The New York Times

Despite all the attention Berlin politicians have given to his city, he said he has yet to see a timetable or concrete assurances that people will be able to keep their jobs, or promises of ‘financial assistance’.

“It was a good start,” she said of the flurry of visitors in recent weeks. “But that’s just the beginning.”

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