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    O'Connell Oil Looking to Sell

    A deal is in the works to merger the Massachusetts-based c-store operator with Lehigh Gas of Bethlehem, Pa.

    PITTSFIELD, Ma. -- O'Connell Oil Associates, a home-heating oil distributor and operator of a 30-unit convenience chain headquartered here, is negotiating a merger with Lehigh Gas, located in Bethlehem, Pa., a senior company employee told the Berkshire Eagle.

    "It absolutely has not happened yet. But there's a lot of exploration going on by [Lehigh]," David Wesley, chief financial officer, told the paper. "After all, they are buying gas stations. We don't know yet where they're going to end up."

    As part of the deal, O'Connell's 30 conveniences stores and seven gas stations -- all branded either Shell, Mobil or CITGO -- will be sold to Lehigh, along with O'Connell's home heating oil distribution and service division, according to Wesley.

    The sale of O'Connell -- an 83-year-old business that employs about 320 people -- has been speculated before; however Wesley emphasized the current focus is on a merger, the report stated. The business deal is one of several that have been attempted in recent years with other companies, Wesley told the paper. In one instance, employees were formally notified and given details of benefit changes, but the plan fell through, he said.

    Company president Michael Sobon could not be reached by the Eagle for comment.

    Wesley, who soon will retire, told the paper there will be changes as a result of the merger, but noted the impact on employees is not clear.

    Lehigh Gas is a petroleum distributor and convenience store operator doing business in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Ohio, according to the paper. The company sells Exxon-, Mobil-, Shell-, Valero-, Sunoco-, Gulf- and Hess-branded fuels, and also operates Dunkin' Donuts and On-the-Run franchises, the report stated.

    A merger with O'Connell Oil would give Lehigh a solid New England footprint for its petroleum retailing business, the report stated. Lehigh executives could not be reached for comment from the Eagle.

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