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At least half of UK petrol stations outside the motorway network have run out of fuel after the UK panic buying in response to the fuel cut caused by the lack of tanker drivers.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, a trade organization, said a survey of members on Sunday found that 50 to 85 percent of all independent gas stations are now empty, with the exception of freeway forecourts and some supermarket locations that have been prioritized by oil Companies.
The government announced on Sunday evening that it would temporarily exempt the energy industry – including producers, suppliers, transport companies and retailers – from the 1998 Competition Act to allow companies to share information and prioritize supplies to areas of greatest need.
Madderson said what had been a “manageable problem” of localized bottlenecks at a small number of retail locations last week quickly exacerbated after media reports of supply problems sparked panic buying among motorists, with some members saying demand was “500 Percent “increased above the normal level” on Saturday, empty the tanks on the forecourt quickly.
The UK has around 8,000 gas stations and most are operated by independent retailers, some of which operate franchises under the brands of the major oil companies.
Madderson told the Financial Times that while the short-term problem was “panic buying,” the main cause was “a government dragging on the number of drivers on the ground.”
Ministers bowed to pressure from business on Saturday and announced that they would grant temporary visas to 5,000 foreign truck drivers in order to tackle the large labor shortage in the logistics sector.
The government’s move came after panic buying followed last week when BP said up to 100 gas stations were disrupted and several forecourts closed due to a lack of tanker drivers.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Sunday urged people to be “sensible,” saying fuel was abundant in the UK’s six refineries and 47 storage facilities.
“The most important thing is that people actually go on as they normally would and refuel their cars when they normally would, then there are no queues and no bottlenecks at the pump,” he told Sky News.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng outlined the move on Sunday evening to temporarily exempt the energy industry from the 1998 Competition Act, saying the so-called Downstream Oil Protocol would ensure the sector could share vital information and work together to minimize disruption.
“While fuel has always been and still is plentiful in refineries and terminals, we recognize that there have been some problems with the supply chains,” he added.
Previously, the government’s appeals to the public for restraint were insufficient to halt a rush of motorists to gas stations terrified by warnings that oil companies may have to cut deliveries due to a lack of truck drivers.
Long queues could be seen at many gas stations over the weekend. BP, which operates one of the UK’s largest fuel networks, including many highways, said an estimated 30 percent of its branded gas stations “do not currently have any major fuel”.
BP and Royal Dutch Shell, which also operate a large fuel network, said they were both working flat out to replenish supplies.
However, industry insiders said there was little energy companies could do about panic buying other than wait for them to fizzle out.
Shell said it was populating websites that ran out “quickly, usually within 24 hours”.
BP said, “We are continuing to work hard with our carrier, Hoyer, to optimize fuel distribution and minimize the extent of disruption.”
The drought in gas stations has put pressure on the government, which is also grappling with the collapse of utilities following a surge in wholesale gas and electricity prices.
Households are prepared for much higher energy bills – one of several factors that warned of a cost of living crisis this winter.
Madderson welcomed the government’s plans to ease visa requirements for foreign workers, but said the biggest problems were with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, a branch of the Department of Transportation, where there is a significant backlog of truck driver applicants, who wanted to start an apprenticeship.
“Clarifying the DVLA is a top priority,” said Madderson.
Industries heavily dependent on fuel supplies said fears about what would happen in the coming days are growing.
Steve Wright, chairman of the Licensed Private Hire Car Association, a trade organization, said he had asked the transportation division to give licensed vehicles emergency service status that would give them priority access to fuel.
He added that fuel shortages would have “catastrophic effects” as private rental cars were heavily used to transport hospital patients and disabled students.
Additional reporting from Nic Fildes and Jim Pickard