Newfoundland's Come By Chance refinery is up for sale because the current owner is unwilling to spend the $700 million needed to bring the plant up to modern levels.

Switzerland's Vitol SA plans to sell all or part of the North Atlantic Refinery that it bought in 1994. The sale may not come for several months and will not affect operations, vice-president Glenn Mifflin said.

Mifflin said it will take six to nine months to gather documentation and go through the process of appointing an investment banker to handle the sale.

"This is not imminent today or tomorrow. This is a long process," Mifflin said. "This is, I think, a very valuable opportunity for someone."

The provincial minister said the sale could attract a major buyer who would be willing to spend the money needed to bring the refinery up to snuff. That would provide a good opportunity for the provincial economy.

Vitol has spent about $550 million on upgrades since buying the plant, and has 700 employees on the payroll. But Vitol said $600 million to $800 million is needed to make the refinery a major player.

Mifflin said Vitol's core business is distribution, not refining, and it does not have the resources or refining expertise to handle the needed upgrades.

Newfoundland Natural Resources Minister Ed Byrne said the government has been given no indication the future of the refinery is in peril. "Generally, from the way the company advised us, this is potentially a good-news story," Byrne said.

Come By Chance, which opened in 1973, was built to refine crude with a higher sulphur content, primarily found in the Middle East.