French Service Stations Empty as Labor Strike Halts Refineries

French Service Stations Empty as Labor Strike Halts Refineries

October 18, 2010, 7:54 AM EDT By Tara Patel
Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) — More than 10 percent of French service stations were estimated to be out of fuel after walkouts and blockades at ports, refineries and storage depots halted imports and distribution.
Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner, said about 400 service stations out of its 4,000 in France were empty of some or all types of fuel while about a quarter of a similarly sized network of outlets at supermarkets were also dry.
“We are mostly running out of diesel,” Alexandre de Benoist, head of the Independent Fuel Importers Union, or UIP, said by telephone. “There are stocks but we can’t get at them in some cases because of blockages at fuel depots.”

The group estimates that 15 percent of the fuel distribution to France’s 12,000 stations has been cut off.
Local government today ordered about 30 workers back on the job to transport fuel from the Grandpuits refinery near Paris, the CGT union, which is leading the strike, said. The plant’s management said workers who refused the demand risked five years in prison, according to a union statement.
“France has enough refined products in sufficient quantities so that everyone will be guaranteed supply for many more weeks,” French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi said today on RTL radio. “When there is a blockade we will take the necessary measures.”
The union said “in light of the government’s declarations, we are not excluding police intervention” at Grandpuits.

Prices Jump
Refineries have been shut, fuel storage sites blocked and crude import terminals closed as employees protest a government plan to raise the retirement age. The action has created long lines at service stations across the country as consumers rush to fill up their cars.
The strike caused gasoline prices in northwest Europe to climb 13 percent, according to Bloomberg data. Fuel for immediate loading closed at $771 a metric ton on Oct. 15, up from $683 a ton on Sept. 27, when the Marseille strike started.
Total has halted refineries at Donges, Feyzin, Grandpuits, and La Mede while a plant in Normandy is in the process of closing, spokesman Michael Crochet-Vourey said by telephone. Some fuel depots operated by Total are blocked by strikers including one at Le Mans, he said.

Imports Blocked
Oil imports at Le Havre, Marseille, and near Nantes have been blocked by the labor action. The three points are the only means by which crude normally enters France, the Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, the refiner’s group, has said.
Police have ordered protesters to lift barricades at fuel depots while jet fuel supplies to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, France’s biggest, resumed after management reopened a pipeline. The link delivers supply from a terminal at Le Havre.
The strike at Marseille’s Fos and Lavera oil terminals entered its 22nd day, leaving 65 vessels stranded as of today. These included 47 crude and refined fuel tankers and 10 gas transporters, according to a statement from the port.
–With additional reporting by Nidaa Bakhsh in London. Editors: Jonas Bergman, Stephen Cunningham – businessweek.com

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