Fuel supply: Why are there long queues for petrol in UK?

image source, Getty Imagesimage captionThousands of petrol stations have now run out of fuel

You may have heard about long queues forming at petrol stations across the UK in recent days as people panic buy fuel – even though the government and oil companies say there is no shortage. We look at what has been happening, and why.

What has been happening at petrol stations?

The scenes have been described by one petrol station owner as "carnage".

Queues have stretched for miles outside some petrol stations as people wait for hours to fill up their tanks. Some drivers have slept in their cars as they waited, while others have tried to jump the queue by following fuel tankers into station forecourts.

Many petrol stations have not been able to keep up with demand and have had to close.

Oil 4 Wales director, Colin Owens, said his garage in Maesteg in South Wales usually sold between 20,000 and 30,000 litres of fuel per day, but had gone through 100,000 litres in the last 24 hours.

There have been ugly scenes in some places.

Professor Danny Altmann of Imperial College London tweeted about a fight he saw erupt as the petrol ran out.

"Man behind me was furious and started punching the guard. Became a melee of 8-10 men on the ground, punching and kicking."

I’m now officially in post-Brexit wild-West. No HGV drivers, no petrol: queued most of the morning for petrol. Got near the front and they said none left. Man behind me was furious and started punching the guard. Became a melee of 8-10 men on the ground, punching and kicking

— Danny Altmann (@Daltmann10) September 25, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on TwitterIs the UK running out of petrol?

Oil companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil and Greenergy, have stressed that there is no petrol shortage, saying the pressures on supply were being caused by "temporary spikes in customer demand – not a national shortage of fuel".

A succession of government ministers have taken to the airwaves to make the same point.

"There isn't a shortage," Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Monday. "The most important thing is that people just buy petrol as they normally would."

"This would have been entirely manageable had we not seen lots of media coverage around the fact there were shortages – and then a public reaction to that."

However, it is clear that there is now a shortage of petrol at the point of sale.

image source, AFPimage captionPeople queued for hours to fill up

The Petrol Retailers Association said on Monday that as many as two-thirds of its membership of nearly 5,500 independent outlets were now out of fuel, with the rest of them "partly dry and running out soon".

The worst affected were in Britain's urban areas, while Northern Ireland was currently unaffected.

PRA chairman Brian Madderson laid the blame on "panic buying, pure and simple".

What is the reason for the rush to buy petrol?

The primary cause actually lies with another shortage the UK is currently facing – lorry drivers.

There is estimated to be a shortage of more than 100,000 drivers in the UK, and it has been causing problems for a range of industries – from supermarkets to fast food chains – in recent months.

The fuel panic was sparked after oil firm BP last week said it would have to "temporarily" close a handful of its petrol stations because of a shortage of lorry drivers. Few other oil companies had similar problems at that point.

So why does the UK have a shortage of lorry drivers?

While there is evidence of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver shortages across Europe, the UK has been among the hardest hit by the problem.

After Brexit, many European drivers went back to their home countries, or decided to work elsewhere because of the additional border bureaucracy and the impact it had on their income.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw even more drivers return home, with few returning.

  • How serious is the HGV driver shortage?

Meanwhile, older drivers have retired and have not been replaced because of a huge backlog in HGV driver tests due to the pandemic.

What is the UK government doing about the crisis?

On Monday, the government announced the Army had been put on standby to help ease pressure on petrol stations.

Military tanker drivers will be trained so they are ready to be deployed if necessary to deliver fuel to where it is most needed.

Ministers said specific HGV licences would also be extended, while competition law between oil firms would be temporarily suspended.

This makes it easier for companies to share information about fuel supply and prioritise parts of the country most in need, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said.

  • Army put on standby to ease fuel pressures
  • 50,000 more lorry driver tests promised a year
  • Temporary visa plan to ease lorry driver shortage
  • Visas won't solve petrol supply issues – retailers

In a bid to tackle driver shortages, the government has also announced it will offer temporary visas to 5,000 foreign fuel tanker and food lorry drivers as well as 5,500 poultry workers in the run-up to Christmas.

They have also sent nearly one million letters to drivers who hold an HGV licence to encourage them back into the industry, and plan to train 4,000 others to become HGV drivers.

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