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Oil industry strikes spark fears of fuel shortage

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2010-10-15

While strikes affecting French transport systems have lost momentum since Tuesday, the ongoing protests in the country’s oil refineries are raising the possibility of an acute fuel shortage.

The ongoing protests against pension reform in France began to significantly affect the oil industry on Friday. Employees of all 12 French refineries are now on strike, raising the spectre of a nationwide fuel shortage in the days ahead.

Over 100 of the country’s 12,500 petrol stations have already reported difficulties in meeting fuel demand.

The French National Federation of Road Transporters (FNTR) told on Friday that freight companies are starting to face supply problems in several regions of France, notably in the Rhone-Alpes, Alsace, Brittany and south-east regions.

However, France’s largest oil company Total, insisted there would be no immediate shortages. "There are petrol products in all of the depots,” said spokeswoman Christine de Champeaux. “For now the supply problem found in some stations is logistical. We’re coping with an explosion in demand,” she said.

This week, sales have increased by 50 percent at petrol stations.

In the eastern city of Nantes, motorists flocked to the pumps after workers stopped production at the Donges refinery and others blocked a petrol depot in Vern-sur-Seiche near the city of Rennes. Many of the region’s pumps were dry on Friday.

"We have three times more customers than usual,” a station attendant told by phone. “But we barely have any 95 octane fuel left.”

Refinery walkouts and blocked depots

On Friday morning French police forcebly dispersed protesters blocking fuel depots near the cities of Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Marseille and Nantes in a bid to reassure motorists that the country is not facing petrol shortages. In response, union workers rushed to stop transport access to depots in other cities, including in La Rochelle, Le Mans, Caen and Ouistreham.

Container ships have stood unloaded at Marseille on the Mediterranean coast since the beginning of the week. More than 50 ships, including oil tankers, queued to enter the port, France's larges, although the cruise terminal was not affected by the strike.

Meanwhile, workers in 10 of the country’s 12 oil refineries began proceedings for total work stoppage. "This means that no crude oil is arriving, that it is not being processed or refined, and therefore that all the shipments are blocked," a Total spokesperson told AFP.

Protesters also blocked a pipeline supplying the Orly and Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airports in Paris. Air traffic was not disrupted on Friday, despite the industrial action.

To cope with the scarcity of petrol, authorities in Paris allowed companies on Thursday to draw from their own emergency stocks, which are reported to contain enough fuel for between an additional 10 and 12 days.

Date created : 2010-10-15


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