90% of Petrol Station Pumps Are Running Dry in the UK

The UK's petrol station supply shortage, explained.
Chris Young
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Stories are emerging of stranded drivers and long queues outside petrol stations in the United Kingdom as fuel shortages are causing people to panic buy, a report from the BBC explains.

Up to 90 percent of the UK's petrol stations were reporting fuel shortages on Sept. 27, according to INews. British oil and gas firm BP said that 30 percent of its 1,200 sites did not have petrol or diesel, while Shell said it was "running low on some grades." 

Strangely enough, fuel supplies at refineries are plentiful, so what's causing petrol stations to run dry? The shortages people are experiencing don't actually come from a lack of fuel, they come from a lack of drivers and a breakdown in the supply chain — the UK's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps recently stated that "there is no shortage of fuel" and that there is plenty of petrol in the country's six refineries and in its 47 storage facilities.

The petrol shortage could, therefore, be more accurately described as a driver shortage. The UK is currently suffering the effects of a shortfall of approximately 100,000 HGV drivers who drive the fuel from storage facilities to petrol stations throughout the country.

A brief breakdown of the UK petrol shortage

Several factors have contributed to this driver shortfall, including Brexit, the pandemic, poor working conditions, and an aging workforce. Brexit led many European drivers to return home, while the pandemic has caused a large delay in HGV driving examinations needed to approve new drivers.  According to the Trade Union Congress (TUC), "wages and conditions" for HGV drivers "have been driven down for years," meaning that taking the exam isn't a very attractive proposition for many in the first place — approximately 85,000 HGV license holders no longer drive, suggesting they have been turned away by poor conditions.

All of these issues are having the knock-on effect of causing UK citizens to panic buy fuel as they fear it might run dry. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged the public to stop panic buying and "only fill up when [they] really need it." In the meantime, the UK's military may step in. According to the BBC, roughly 150 army tanker drivers are preparing to deliver fuel to petrol stations in the coming days.

The UK's petrol shortage comes as the effects of another energy crisis threaten to envelop the global economy. Europe's natural gas prices have soared 250 percent since the beginning of the year, forcing the UK's sixth-largest energy company, Bulb, to seek a government bailout. The problem comes as the UK aims for a 78 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035. Though the petrol shortage in the UK is not to be confused with the country's gas crisis — petrol is gasoline or gas in the US — the shortage has caused inquiries for electric cars to soar in recent days, meaning it might have a slight indirect impact on the UK's abilities to meet its climate goals.

Editorial Note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to the "British oil and gas firm" as "BT". This has been corrected.

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