French drivers left without petrol as strikers blockade fuel depots

Unions' industrial action shuts refineries and petrol stations run dry with Total warning it may pull investments in France.

Some drivers in France have been left stranded following blockades of fuel depots by protesters angry over government labour reforms. AFP/Damien Meyer
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French motorists are struggling to fill up their tanks, with some forced to push their cars to petrol stations, as blockades of refineries and fuel depots have left at least 2,400 of about 12,000 petrol stations in France completely out of fuel.

The crisis has also spurred the oil major Total to warn it may pull its investments in the country.

Blockades of five refineries run by Total in France will cause the French oil giant to “seriously review” its domestic investments, the group’s chief executive said Tuesday.

In the face of persistently weak oil prices, Total has slashed costs and said it would be cutting investment in 2016, with investment in its own businesses now seen falling short the US$19 billion announced in February. The industrial action could curtail that even further. The figure was already down on $23bn for 2015.

Total chief Patrick Pouyanne said today strikes and blockades by union activists that had fully or partially crippled its refineries “will lead us to seriously review the investment plans we have for all sites in France” under a restructuring programme.

“If our colleagues want to take an industrial asset hostage for a cause that is foreign to the company, you have to ask whether that is where we should invest,” Mr Pouyanne said.

“In any case, we should reflect clearly on the question, both the management and the board of directors,” he said.

Strikes by French oil sector workers protesting proposed labour market reforms have halted operations at two refineries, with three others in the process of shutting down or cutting output, sapping petrol stations dry and delaying tankers at ports.

The five installations where operations have been affected account for more than half of France’s total refinery output. France has been hit by a wave of strikes aimed at pressuring the Socialist government of the president François Hollande to withdraw labour reforms that unions say will hurt workers.

Protesters have blocked fuel depots and oil terminals on the English Channel coast in Le Havre and on the Mediterranean coast in Fos-Lavera, disrupting the distribution of petrol and other refined products. France has a total refining capacity of nearly 1.5 million barrels per day of oil, which equates to around 1 percent of total global daily crude demand.

Total, US rival ExxonMobil and PetroIneos, owned by PetroChina, operate the eight facilities.

ExxonMobil said on Tuesday output at its two refineries was at normal levels, while PetroIneos could not be reached for comment.

A prolonged refinery strike in France in 2010 led to a glut of crude in Europe because it could not be delivered to refineries, and a spike in the prices of refined products due to low output from refineries.

Refineries in France as at 5pm UAE time:

Refinery: Operator: Capacity(bpd): status

Donges: Total: 220,000: shutting down

Grandpuits: Total: 101,000: shutting down

Gonfreville: Total: 247,000: shut down

Feyzin: Total: 117,000: shut down

La Mede: Total: 153,000: reduced output

Port Jerome: Exxon: 240,000: normal output

Fos-sur-Mer: Exxon: 140,000: normal output

Lavera: PetroIneos: 240,000: N/A

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