Gas Is Drying Up—Why There's a U.K. Petrol Shortage

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Sep. 27 2021, Published 11:55 a.m. ET

In a race for the pump, U.K. drivers are rushing to gas stations, with many running out of petrol entirely. The spike in demand has caused a major backlog on the fuel supply.

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What's causing the U.K. petrol shortage and will suppliers catch up with government assistance?

Drivers are rushing to gas stations in the U.K.

In the U.K., reports are coming in of mile-long lines at gas stations. Some drivers are sleeping in their cars as they wait their turn. The BBC reported that a director of an Oil 4 Wales station was selling 100,000 liters of fuel per day, which is nearly triple the usual 20,000–30,000 liters.

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The crowded petrol pumps have caused drivers to lash out and become violent, with guards and fellow drivers getting attacked in some cases.

A perceived fuel shortage

Some U.K. residents are blaming Brexit for the fuel shortage, but the reality seems to be closer to the consumer.

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According to U.K. fuel suppliers Shell, ExxonMobil, and Greenergy, there isn't a gas shortage for suppliers. Environment Secretary George Eustice said about the problem that "there isn't a shortage." He urged people to buy gas as they normally would.

Reportedly, media outlets discussed how there's a shortage of tanker truck drivers. The public reacted on the presumption that gas could run out soon. Because of that, drivers arrived en masse to stock up on fuel. Now, there's a consumer-facing shortage.

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According to the most recent data from The Petrol Retailers Association, nearly two-thirds of the organization's 5,500 independent stations were out of fuel, with the rest soon to follow.

Is the U.K. sending troops to the gas pumps?

With wild traffic and behavior at the petrol stations, the U.K. government is contemplating asking the country's military to step in. While it isn't currently deemed necessary, it's definitely an option that the government is hanging over people's heads.

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"We have no plans at the moment to bring in the army to actually do driving but we always have a civil contingencies section within the army that's always on standby should they be needed," Eustice told reporters.

The petrol shortage comes after a CO2 supply emergency

Food-grade CO2 was on the fritz in the U.K. due to a company shutting down its pesticide production facilities where CO2 is a byproduct. Signs of a CO2 shortage caused whirlwind grocery buying, but the government stepped in to provide a subsidy and keep the production facilities open despite difficulties amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In the future, carbon capture programs could solve food-grade CO2 shortage problems. For now, we're relying on companies dedicated elsewhere to provide their byproduct.

For the U.K., the current gas shortage could be resolved if consumers let suppliers catch up, despite lower tanker driver employment rates. At this point, that catch-up process could take some time.

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