Normandy refinery: 80 years of history

Inspired by the book 80 years of Industrial Anticipation at the Normandy refinery.

For many people in Le Havre, this first refinery of the C.F.R. remains the big company which symbolized for a long time an often enviable situation.


1930 - 1940 : The construction

It was towards the region of Le Havre, the leading oil importing port in FrancePays FranceShow more, that the choice of location for the future Normandy Refinery quickly moved. On the one hand, it was necessary not to stray too far from the port of Le Havre so that the factory could be easily supplied by an underground pipe. On the other hand, in order to favor the embarkation of refined products towards the Paris region by barges or by coasters, it was necessary to place it either at the port itself, or on the Tancarville Canal built 50 years ago to allow barges going from Le Havre to Paris to avoid the waves of the English Channel. Finally, it was necessary to be able to connect the factory by a branch to the railway line from Le Havre to Rouen which, from Harfieur, departs from the estuary and rises on the plateau.

If the chosen site had certain advantages, it also had the enormous handicap of appearing in a sandy and clayey swamp, barely drained and barely suitable for grazing cattle during the summer. Its official description, at the time, was as follows: "grazing grass, studded with asters and surrounding potholes and puddles".


Four stages of preliminary work were required:

  • backfill and elevate the terrain at a height of 7.90m, lower than that of white water at equinox, then that of 8.30m
  • build a large network of concrete guttres for water drainage
  • build a dyke to protect the land against high tides
  • support all constructions with reinforced concrete piles

It was also necessary to consider quickly digging a port because the land had, at that time, only one very precarious access: the towpath of the Tancarville Canal.

It was on June 6, 1931, after preliminary studies successfully carried out and even before obtaining legal and administrative building permits, that the CFR entrusted the Société Générale d'Entreprises (SGE) with the engineering works. civil. It should be noted, for the record, that a termination clause was provided for in the contract allowing the work to be suspended in the event that the necessary authorizations were not granted to the C.F.R.

The general design of the Normandy Refinery was the work of Emile MI-GUET and Pierre MINARD. It provided for the processing of 1,600,000 tonnes / year of crude oil mainly from Iraq. In a first stage, the tonnage treated was to amount to 800,000 tonnes / year to obtain only passenger gasoline and petrol P.L. (heavy goods vehicles), kerosene, diesel and 4 qualities of fuel oil. In two subsequent stages, the tonnage was to be increased to 1,600,000 tonnes and the list of products was to be increased with solvents, paraffin, lubricating oils and asphalts. Around 1930, we were not yet talking about liquefied gases, nor kerosene for reactors. The design of the refinery itself included these extension facilities. This was a novelty in the French industry which then had too much tendency to limit the initial investments thus to reduce the surfaces and the lengths of the networks!

Construction de la raffinerie