Motorists rush to refuel even as government reassures
French motorists have begun a rush to petrol stations, despite assurances from the government and the oil sector that the country will not run out of fuel because of strikes at refineries and fuel depots.
"All petrol stations have fuel," Dominique Bussereau, France's secretary of state for transport, told Europe 1 radio station on Sunday. But on the ground, drivers increasingly anxious about a possible fuel shortage have been lining up to refuel at petrol stations across the country.
Strikers have brought France’s twelve refineries to a hold and blocked fuel depots as part of a larger conflict about pension reform. Bussereau has appealed for "common sense", acknowledging that some 200 petrol stations had encountered difficulties with supplies. According to French daily Le Parisien, 800 service stations out of the country’s 12,500 were affected at the weekend.
Filling up by precaution
"All our tanks have been empty since yesterday afternoon," said an employee at a Total service station, short of petrol, near Paris’s Porte de Saint-Cloud. "It’s the direct consequence of the panic of our customers, who preferred to take precautions. We’re supposed to be resupplied Monday morning. Well, normally ..."
One motorist in search of fuel could barely conceal her anger. "It is unacceptable to undermine the freedom of movement and work of the population, even though I support the movement against pension reform," said Sylvie, 50, who will "spend her Sunday afternoon looking for fuel."
But all the stations are not in the same boat. Another petrol station belonging to the oil giant Total, in Issy-les-Moulineaux, went about its business of pumping fuel to clients as usual. There was no queue at around noon, but a steady stream of vehicles stopped there to refuel. "We are clearly busier than usual for a Sunday, some customers are apparently worried," said a station employee. One motorist said he had driven out just to buy petrol after hearing about possible shortages. "After failing twice at two closed stations around Paris, I was finally able to fill up, so, it really is not a rumour," said Marek, 38.
'The situation is calming'
Others, more philosophical, have not changed their behaviour. "I come every Sunday to fill up. I think the risk of shortage is not real, it's a strategic sector and I dare hope that the threat is overcome by the authorities," said Mathieu, an architect in Paris.
Total said in a statement posted on its website at the weekend that all of its distribution depots of fuel and heating oil were well provisioned and ready for delivery to service stations in its network. But it conceded on Sunday morning that, "in some areas, the pace of sales at petrol stations has accelerated due to precautionary consumer purchases and exceeds the necessary time for replenishment, which causes temporary unavailability".
The president of the French Union of Petroleum Industries (UFIP), Jean-Louis Schilansky, also tried to be reassuring. "The situation is calming. (...) We have the means to deliver to petrol stations in a near-normal manner," he said. Stocks have been "made available", he said, though adding, "we cannot hold on forever".