UK to deploy troops in days to help alleviate fuel shortage

(Bloomberg) – Britain’s oil industry has said the fuel crisis is easing after the government deploys additional tankers and put the military on standby to drive trucks.

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There are “signs that the situation at the pumps has started to improve,” fuel suppliers including BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp said on Wednesday. “We remain convinced that the situation will stabilize further in the coming days. “

Earlier today, the UK government said it was deploying its reserve tanker fleet to ease the crisis that has wreaked havoc on gas stations across the country. The army drivers will be in use in “a few days,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said.

The government’s reserve tanker fleet will be on the road this afternoon, driven by civilians, to ramp up deliveries. Some 150 army drivers were made available on Monday in case they were needed. This may be the case as early as this week.

The fuel suppliers said they met Kwarteng on Wednesday and “continue to work closely with the government to maintain regular fuel deliveries.”

The government is trying to tackle the fuel crisis after days of chaos as long lines of vehicles have formed on the country’s forecourts, blocking traffic and sparking fighting.

At the height of the disruption, more than half of the country’s gas stations were dry on Sunday. While ministers and fuel retailers say the situation is improving, drivers still had difficulty finding fuel and long waits to purchase it.

While until now a shortage of drivers has been the root of the shortages, companies have recalled some of them from leave and are at full capacity, resulting in some operators having more drivers than tankers, one said. person close to the case. That is why the government’s fleet of 80 reserve tankers was made available, they said, adding that there was still a shortage of drivers across the industry. Hoyer, which delivers fuel to customers including BP Plc, said there were 50 drivers short for its trucks.

Of the 150 army drivers put on hold, about half could be deployed this week if necessary, with the rest requiring more training, officials said.

Deliveries corresponding to sales

The British Association of Petrol Retailers said on Wednesday the number of out-of-stock stations fell to around 27%, from 37% a day earlier. “We expect the easing to continue over the next 24 hours,” said Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA.

“The situation is clearly stabilizing,” Kwarteng said. “If we look at the entries, the deliveries of gasoline, they were offset yesterday by sales.”

Fuel storage on UK forecourts is never at full capacity, even under normal circumstances, when they are on average 46% full, the person familiar with the matter said. Storage last week declined every day, hitting a low of 10% on weekends, before increasing in the past two days, they said, declining to say what the current level is.

London taxi drivers said there were few signs of improvement on the ground.

“The situation is absolutely no different today than it was earlier this week,” said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which represents half of the 22,000 drivers of iconic black taxis. from London. “Most of the fuel sites are closed, the ones that aren’t are very rare, have huge queues, have all the fights and all the arguments and that sort of thing.”

“Ample” reservations

Ministers are struggling to show they have mastered frequent supply chain disruptions, of which fuel shortages are just the latest example. During the pandemic, supermarket shelves were left bare amid an estimated shortage of 100,000 truck drivers.

Johnson’s opponents have accused the Brexit deal he signed with the European Union of cutting the UK off from the bloc’s homogeneous labor market, a narrative the government has rejected.

By bringing in the military, the government is trying to end the chaos and attention it has generated on Brexit. It is also a calculation that the dramatic image of soldiers in tank trucks will be less politically damaging than appearing to let the crisis drag on.

The government said it expects the shortages to ease once the panic buying ends, and again urged Britons on Wednesday to resume their normal ways.

“We are working closely with industry to help increase fuel stocks and there are now signs of stabilization in forecourt storage,” a government spokesperson said. “We have ample fuel reserves and remain confident that the situation will improve in the coming days. The sooner we can all get back to our normal shopping habits, the sooner things will get back to normal. “

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