WASHINGTON – If you pull into one of Sunoco Inc.’s 4,150 service stations, you’re guaranteed to pump Saudi-free gas, a company spokesman says.

The gas retailer’s decision to shun crude oil from Saudi Arabia, which is looking more like a foe than an ally in America’s war on terror, has less to do with patriotism than practicality.

Sunoco’s refineries are configured to process light, or “sweet” crude, which contains less sulfur. And although Saudi Arabia sells a light crude, most of its stock is heavy, or “sour.”

Sunoco couldn’t use it if it wanted to, so it buys much of its oil from U.S. producers and overseas suppliers such as Nigeria and Angola, which produce a pricier low-sulfur crude.

“We have overseas suppliers in West Africa, but we do not purchase at all from Saudi Arabia,” said Sunoco spokesman Gerald Davis in an interview with WorldNetDaily.

Not a drop? “That’s correct.”

Davis adds that other American refiners buy Saudi’s high-sulfur crude not only because it’s relatively cheap, but because there’s a steady supply.

“Setting aside geopolitics, Saudi Arabia has tremendous reserves,” he said.

Philadelphia-based Sunoco operates gas stations chiefly on the East Coast and as far west as Indiana.

Among other large gas retailers, Conoco Inc. and Diamond Shamrock Refining and Marketing don’t buy much Saudi oil, according to Energy Department data for 2001 crude imports.

Shell’s Saudi shell?

Technically, Shell Oil Co. bought the least amount of Saudi crude among big U.S. gas retailers last year, monthly Energy data show.

But in October, Shell bought a 50 percent stake in Houston-based Motiva Enterprises LLC, Saudi’s largest U.S. customer. Shell now co-owns Motiva with Saudi Refining Inc., a unit of Saudi Aramco.

Motiva runs nearly 4,800 Shell-branded gas stations, primarily in the eastern U.S. It also operates about 8,200 Texaco-branded stations in that region.

Last year, Chevron, which recently merged with Texaco, ranked as the biggest buyer of Saudi crude among household-name gas retailers, according to Energy figures. Based in San Francisco, Chevron operates about 8,000 gas stations in 25 states.

Marathon Ashland Petro LLC and Exxon Co. USA, now partners with Mobil Oil Corp., rounded out the Top 5 Saudi oil importers.

Marathon operates 2,069 retail outlets under the name Speedway SuperAmerica, or SSA. The chain is based in Enon, Ohio.

Here is Energy’s ranking of companies that imported Persian Gulf crude last year, by barrels purchased. Gulf states include Saudi Arabia, as well as Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Qatar and UAE. Saudi imports are not broken out separately.

To zero in on Saudi imports, check out Energy’s monthly transaction reports by buyers and sellers, and barrels purchased.

Energy’s tables do not show the amount of Saudi crude purchased by refiners as a percentage of their total oil purchases.

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