By Forrest Crellin
PARIS (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Industrial action shutting down French refineries has left some gas stations short on fuel as strikes lasted into Thursday, including hitting liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, power and maintenance of the nuclear reactor.
The action is part of a nationwide movement against changes to the pension system backed by President Emmanuel Macron that includes raising the retirement age by two years to 64.
As of Wednesday evening, about 15 percent of gas stations had run out of at least one product, according to energy ministry data cited by the French Union of Petroleum Industries (UFIP). More than a third of the stations were facing shortages in three regions of western France and southern France, he said.
There was no need to panic, a FOIP spokesman said, adding: “We are seeing people rushing to buy (fuel), so we are trying to calm them down.”
The French government has renewed a requisition order for staff at the Fos-sur-Mer petrol depot operated by Gas Depots of Fos (DPF) in the hard-hit south of the country, an energy ministry spokesman said.
A requisition order has also been prepared for the Gonfreville site in northern France, but formal notification has not been issued at this stage, the spokesman added.
Alexis Antonioli, Gonfreville’s general secretary for the hardline union CGT, told RockedBuzz via Reuters that the prefect (regional administrator) in that area was trying to force staff back to work to supply kerosene to Paris airports.
“For us it is unacceptable. This is why since yesterday we have refused to proceed with the (requisition), because we are here to defend the right to strike,” said Antonioli.
The civil aviation authority issued a warning on March 17 that the supply of kerosene for Paris airports was becoming critical and advised airlines to refuel planes as much as possible before flying to the French capital, AFP reported. Thursday.
The Gonfreville refinery, TotalEnergies’ largest in the country, was shut down on Tuesday due to the strike, a spokesman said, which left the storage tanks nearly full.
“I say it forcefully: if the strike is a fundamental constitutional right, the blockade (of infrastructures) is not…”, said Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher.
The unions have said they will continue their protest.
“We have no choice but to go on strike and block the economy until (Macron) gives up and withdraws his project,” said Fabrice Criquet, general secretary of the FO-ADP union.
Force majeure was declared at the Dunkirk LNG terminal in northern France on Thursday after operations were disrupted by the strike, operator Fluxys said in an online bulletin.
The action is expected to last until early Friday, limiting the site’s delivery capacity to 70 gigawatt hours per day (GWh/d), the bulletin said.
A general meeting with workers will be held on Friday to decide whether the strike will be extended, a union source said.
Maintenance of eleven nuclear reactors has been halted, a CGT union official said. They included the Penly 1 reactor, which was discovered earlier this month to have new stress corrosion cracking. The maintenance breaks lasted for 11 days.
The market has already partly reacted to the delays, said Rystad analyst Fabian Ronningen, as the difference between French and German electricity prices – which almost disappeared at the beginning of the year – has jumped beyond 50 euros per megawatt hour (MWh).
“The more delays we see, the greater the upside risk to energy prices as well,” he added.
(Reporting by Forrest Crellin, Benjamin Mallet, Lucien Libert and Marc Leras; editing by Silvia Aloisi and Mark Heinrich)