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imageWELLINGTON: BP has formed a joint venture with New Zealand Refining Co Ltd and Z Energy to buy crude oil for New Zealand's only refinery to help defend their common market against fuel imports. BP and Z Energy are NZ Refining's two biggest customers for petroleum products.

At present, the 110,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) refinery operates only when crude shipments arrive and has to change its settings to cope with different types of crude.

The agreement will help to run the refinery more efficiently on an "optimal crude diet," allowing it to compete with the increasing imports of competitively priced products from Asia-Pacific refiners, NZ Refining Chief Executive Sjoerd Post said in a stock exchange statement filed on Wednesday.

The savings will come from more efficient bulk buying and processing of crude, and a better scheduling of refining operations, a Z Energy source said.

Z Energy imports about 12 million barrels of crude a year - or an average 33,000 bpd - into New Zealand to run through the refinery, which meets about 75 percent of its fuel needs. BP imports around the same level.

Z Energy said the joint venture means it has deferred plans to spend NZ$50 million ($42 million) to expand storage facilities at two New Zealand ports.

"The agreement ... will increase efficiency, reduce costs and is an important step in improving the refinery's continued long-term competitiveness against refined fuel imports," Z Energy Chief Executive Mike Bennetts said in a statement.

NZ Refining supplies around 80 percent of New Zealand's refined fuels and is 73 percent owned by BP, local units of Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp, and Greenstone Energy Ltd, which includes Z Energy.