ENGINEERING construction firms will get a 6 billion boost in refinery work across Europe in the next four years.
The oil industry is bracing itself to make the heavy investment to fall in line with European Commission plans to cut car pollution.
In the UK, industry experts predict more than 1 billion will be spent fitting new plant to cut the levels of sulphur and benzene in petrol and diesel.
The new targets were published last week in proposals for a draft fuel quality directive launched by the EC as part of its Auto-Oil programme.
The refinery work will help contractors like Amec Process & Energy and John Brown Engineering which have partnering- type agreements at refineries in Britain.
But the strong track record built up by UK firms also places them in the frame for work on the Continent.
The focus will be on fitting hydrofiner plants at many of the 106 refineries in the UK and mainland Europe.
A spokeswoman for the Petrol Industry Association said: To meet the fuel specifications needed to achieve the air quality targets it will be necessary to invest 6 billion by the year 2000.
The European Commissions own figures suggest that 1 billion will need to be spent in the UK but this still has to be confirmed by detailed studies of refineries in this country.
The oil industry is fully behind the ECs proposal and has been in talks with officials for three years.
The spokeswoman added: The deadline is tight but the oil industry is committed to meeting it.
But the oil industry and commission have also agreed to look at further measures to reduce car pollution and will jointly draw up proposals for an Auto-Oil 2 programme in 1998.
Plans for extra investment come just as the industry is facing a patchy recovery led mainly by Tyneside and south Wales.
Process plant contractors expect to see a rise in orders this year and are currently executing contracts with an installed value of more than 9 billion.
According to figures last week from the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association, orders in 1995 topped 2.5 billion more than in 1993 but below 1994s 3.9 billion.