The UK government has decided to temporarily suspend competition rules for the country’s downstream oil sector in an attempt to alleviate supply-chain issues at fuel service stations.
The measure — known as the Downstream Oil Protocol — will exempt the industry from competition legislation so information can be shared and fuel supply optimized. “While there has always been and continues to be plenty of fuel at refineries and terminals, we are aware that there have been some issues with supply chains,” business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said. “This is why we will enact the Downstream Oil Protocol to ensure industry can share vital information and work together more effectively to ensure disruption is minimised.”
The government has implemented the long-standing contingency plans after a sustained period of panic buying by motorists over the past few days forced many UK fuel service stations to close, with others running short of at least one grade of gasoline or diesel. The rush on service stations began late last week when it emerged that a shortage of qualified heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers had disrupted fuel supply to some forecourts. BP, which operates the largest number of filling stations in the UK, said at the time that 50-100 of its more than 1,200-strong network were running out of at least one grade of fuel and that a handful had been forced to close temporarily.
The supply chain problems have since been exacerbated by unusually high demand from motorists concerned about a looming fuel shortage, with long queues forming at service stations over the weekend. The exact number of filling stations affected is unclear. ExxonMobil and Shell, which operate the second- and third-largest number of fuel service stations in the UK, both declined to say how many of their forecourts had run out of fuel. But ExxonMobil stressed that fuel supply to its distribution terminals is normal and urged drivers to stick to their usual buying patterns, and Shell said it is working hard to ensure supplies for motorists. “Since Friday [24 September] we have been seeing higher-than-normal demand across our network which is resulting in some sites running low on some grades. We are replenishing these quickly, usually within 24 hours,” Shell said.
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