By Forrest Crellin
PARIS (Reuters) -France has tapped its strategic fuel reserves to resupply petrol stations that have run dry, the government said on Wednesday, amid strikes by workers at refineries and depots that have stunted production and blocked deliveries.
Government spokesman Olivier Veran acknowledged “tensions” but said there was no shortage of fuel stocks at a national level. He urged consumers not to panic-buy petrol.
“We are obviously monitoring very, very closely the situation together with the operators and, here and there, when it was necessary, we have used our strategic stocks to enable the stations to be supplied,” Veran told reporters.
A walkout by hard-left CGT trade union members at TotalEnergies has disrupted operations at two refineries and two storage facilities, while two Exxon Mobil refineries have faced similar problems since Sept. 20.
The industrial action has left more than 60% of France’s refining capacity offline.
Veran said roughly one in every 10 service stations nationally were experiencing some shortages, but that in the north the figure was closer to one in every three.
In the hardest-hit Hauts-de-France region close to the border with Belgium, where pump prices are currently higher, authorities banned the sale of petrol and diesel in jerry cans and other portable containers.
The prefect of the Nord department around the city of Lille said he had asked some petrol stations on Wednesday evening to ensure that health emergency workers were given priority.
The local authority also confirmed that strategic reserves had been used on Wednesday to cope with the shortage, which mostly affects diesel supply.
The UFIP petroleum industry body said the shortages at fuel pumps were due to logistics and not insufficient supplies.
“There are no shortages in supply due to the strikes,” a UFIP spokesperson said.
The CGT trade union is demanding a 10% salary increase from TotalEnergies to help catch up with soaring inflation, a massive investment plan and the hiring of temporary workers, said union delegate Thierry Defresne.
So far, management has refused a catch-up salary increase for 2022, and wants only to negotiate 2023 wages, he added.
The UFIP has previously said France has enough strategic reserves of oil products to cover average demand for about three months. TotalEnergies has said it has increased imports and has additional stocks “that could last between 20 days and a month.”
Outages in France’s refining sector are creating uncertainty in the refined oil trade amid a heavy oil refinery maintenance season in Europe this autumn.
“The strikes continue unabated”, the union said in a statement on Wednesday evening, adding “the wage negotiations are far from over”.
(Reporting by Forrest Crellin in ParisAdditional reporting by Pascal Rossignol and Gus TrompizEditing by Mark Potter, David Evans, Matthew Lewis and Gareth Jones)