France has started using its strategic oil reserves for the first time since 2010 to counter union blockades of its refineries, which has forced about a fourth of the country’s gas stations to close due to the lack of gasoline, the French oil industry federation said on Wednesday. And those gasoline stations that remain open have received government orders to limit the sale of gasoline or diesel to about US$30 per customer.
Unions protesting against a planned labor reform are picketing refineries around the country. Coupled with some panic buying, the disruption has led to fuel shortages in large parts of France including Paris over the past week.
France has strategic oil reserves worth several months of consumption on which it can draw in emergencies. They were last used when unions blocked refineries for several weeks in protest against pension reforms in 2010.
Experts say French strategic oil reserves do not physically rise or fall, but that operators allocate volumes blocked in strike-hit refineries to strategic reserve obligations, freeing up other volumes in accessible locations.
Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres (UFIP) President Francis Duseux told RMC radio that the industry had been using the strategic reserves for two days. A spokeswoman confirmed that “a small quantity” had been used.
He added that even if all refineries were stopped, France’s pipeline system would still allow the industry to operate.
Industry experts confirmed that the reserves — set up following the 1973-74 oil crisis and stored in some 85 sites around the country — account on average for about three months of consumption, or longer during the summer months when there is no fuel consumption for heating.
Nuclear Plant Strike
Workers at France’s hardline CGT union have voted for a 24-hour strike at Nogent-sur-Seine nuclear plant starting Wednesday at 1900 GMT, extending a standoff with the government over labor laws that is also affecting oil refineries.
“It will start tonight at 21:00 and last 24 hours,” CGT spokesman Laurent Langlard said of the move at the plant which is south east of Paris. Workers at other nuclear plants were due to meet on Wednesday to decide on possible further strikes, he said.
This piece originally ran on teleSUR