French fuel shortages worsen: what is outlook for the week ahead?

Nearly one petrol station in three had supply issues yesterday (October 9) as French refinery workers’ strike continues. The prime minister says ‘strategic stocks’ have been freed up

Fuel shortages are now affecting nearly one in three French petrol stations, as the result of a strike in TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil refineries
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[Article updated on October 10 at 14:55 with further details on France's 'strategic stocks' of fuel and on the continuing strike.]

France’s prime minister has announced that “strategic stocks” of fuel have been freed up as an increasing number of petrol stations experience shortages with strike action at TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil refineries continuing into a second week.

It was announced this afternoon (October 10) that the strikes will continue tomorrow and be extended to 15 motorway service stations managed by Argedis, which is a TotalEnergies subsidiary.

Read more: MAP: Where in France have fuel limits been imposed and in what way?

Élisabeth Borne said yesterday (October 9) that the stocks will be delivered “progressively” and the situation should improve as the week goes on.

The term "strategic stocks" refers to the fact that since 1928, the law has required the government to make sure that there are at least three months of fuel supplies kept in reserve. This equates to 18 million tonnes of fuel spread across 89 different sites, some of which has now been released to ease the tensions being experienced by petrol stations.

Fuel depots that are normally closed on weekends were also opened on Saturday and Sunday and deliveries were exceptionally allowed on Sunday when tankers are usually banned on French roads.

“The measures we have taken have enabled us to increase deliveries by 20% in comparison to normal flows,” she added, saying she is following the situation “very closely”.

It comes as nearly one station in three (29.7%) has now begun to experience supply issues on one type of fuel at least, compared to 20% on Saturday (October 8) and Friday.

Some stations are completely closed, while at others drivers unable to find petrol or diesel elsewhere have been forming long queues.

To check supplies at your local stations see here: French fuel shortage: How to check stocks at your local petrol station

Hauts-de-France is particularly affected, with 54.8% of petrol stations reporting problems, followed by 44.9% of stations in Ile-de-France, the ecological transition ministry reports.

It is thought that the northern departments are impacted more due to their proximity to other European countries, with drivers from there preferring to buy fuel in France as it is cheaper.

This is because the French government is currently offering a 30-cent-per-litre discount on fuel and many companies offer extra discounts on top of that, including TotalEnergies, which adds an extra 20-cent-per-litre reduction.

Limits on fuel purchases

Several prefectures have also imposed limits on the amount of fuel a driver can buy or are prioritising the needs of security and emergency services staff.

These prefectures include Somme, Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Val d’Oise, Vosges, Aisne, Vaucluse and Oise.

Vaucluse’s prefecture, for example, is limiting the sale and purchase of fuel to a maximum of 30 litres for non-professional drivers and 120 litres for professional drivers of vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, reports France Bleu Vaucluse.

Additionally, the sale and purchase of fuel in jerry cans is prohibited until October 11.

Read more: Fuel limits imposed in several areas of France: How long will it last?

In Aisne, emergency and rescue services, medical and paramedical personnel and people in positions of public authority have access to priority lanes at certain petrol stations between 07.30 and 18:00.

The prefectures of Vosges and Val-d'Oise issued orders on Friday to ban the sale and purchase of fuel in cans and jerry cans until October 12.

TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil workers have chosen to continue with the strike action which began on September 27, the CGT union has announced.

Companies ready for talks

TotalEnergies company bosses say they are ready to negotiate with workers from this month regarding their demands for a 10% salary increase as long as the strike comes to an end.

Talks had only been due to begin with the annual negotiations on November 15, which had themselves been brought forward from their usual start date in January.

In an open letter to TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné, the CGT agreed to begin talks on salaries from today, putting aside further demands with relations to recruitment and investment for now.

Employees are requesting a pay rise of 10% to account for inflation and to distribute wealth more effectively within the companies.

TotalEnergies has said that talks will help to “define how employees will benefit – before the end of the year – from the exceptional results generated by [the company], while also taking into account the inflation rate of 2022.”

TotalEnergies recorded $10.6billion in profits in the first half of 2022.

An appeal to ‘individual responsibility’

Ecological Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher has called on the “individual responsibility” of consumers, saying “we have been observing a rise in fuel consumption in recent days; [it is] up 30-35% in some places when compared to the norm.

“A solution must be found without delay through worker-management negotiations, which must take place within the companies.

“French people must not suffer even more for the consequences of this industry action. The conflict must come to an end.”

While Ms Borne promised that the situation would improve over the course of this week, Ms Pannier-Runacher said that it would get better from today.

Since the refinery strikes began, France’s domestic fuel output has fallen by more than 60%.

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