Putting to rest fears it might be exiting the refining business, ExxonMobil’s Australia unit will spend millions of dollars upgrading its Altona oil refinery to produce fuels of higher standards.

According to the Herald Sun, the standards will bring Australian fuels up to cleaner European versions through reducing sulphur levels. Under Federal regulations, the industry is required to meet the standards by 2006 in readiness for them to come into force in 2008-09.

ExxonMobil operates in Australia as Mobil Oil and Esso. It is the last among Australia’s refiners — BP, Caltex and Shell — to commit to the new fuel standards.

Herald Sun reported ExxonMobil Australia chairman Mark Nolan saying the investment would guarantee Altona’s future “through the balance of this decade and beyond.”

It also quoted Mobil’s refining director, Glenn Henson, as saying the upgrade would allow the company to regain its competitive edge in the increasingly tough Asia-Pacific region.

The Altona refinery is the second largest in Australia — contributing about 13 per cent of the nation’s production.