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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Imperial Oil Ltd (IMO.TO) has drawn buyer interest for its Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, refinery, which it put on the auction block in May as it struggled with weak Atlantic crude oil basin margins, the company's chief executive said on Tuesday.
Imperial, the Canadian affiliate of Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), has said it expects to announce a decision on the plant's fate in the first quarter of 2013.
"We've been through a nonbinding phase, looking to identify potential interested acquiring parties. We've entered a binding phase, and we've got multiple parties that are interested," CEO Bruce March told reporters after giving a speech to a business audience.
He declined to characterize the interested parties, calling it a private process.
The 88,000 barrel-a-day refinery is among several facilities on both sides of the Atlantic that operators have put up for sale, shut down, or threatened to close due to poor economics.
But buyers have emerged this year, despite the high cost of Brent-linked crude compared with North American oil priced against the cheaper West Texas Intermediate benchmark.
Some of the buyers are nontraditional, including private equity firm Carlyle Group LP (CG.O), which formed a joint venture with Sunoco Inc (SU.N) to keep a big Philadelphia plant running, and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), which bought the Trainer refinery in Pennsylvania, becoming the first U.S. airline to make such an investment.
Imperial has said that in addition to a sale, it will consider turning the Dartmouth refinery into a storage terminal.
The company's shares rose 12 Canadian cents to C$45.71 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Exxon Mobil owns 69.6 percent of Imperial.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Bob Burgdorfer and Leslie Adler