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French motorists scramble for fuel as strike cuts supply

Frustrated motorists faced more chaos at petrol pumps across France on Friday as a strike at energy giant Totalenergies entered its 12th day.

Totalenergies, among the world’s biggest oil companies, runs a network of around 3,500 stations in France, nearly a third of the total, with most of them low on fuel.

“Does anyone know of a petrol station around here that’s been re-supplied?”, read a post in a local Facebook post Friday morning. “Where can I get ethanol?” posted another motorist in the hope of filling the tank before the weekend.

Several of Totalenergies’s oil refineries have been blocked by striking workers.

“We’ve been dry since Sunday,” a manager at a station in central Paris said on Thursday.

TotalEnergies has, since the start of September, cut petrol prices by 20 euro cents ($0.19) per litre to help vehicle owners cope with sharp rises in energy prices triggered by the war in Ukraine.

The average price for E5-type unleaded petrol is now 1.62 euros per litre, or 6.19 euros per gallon, up around four percent from only a week ago.

“Everybody wants to buy from us because we’re cheaper,” said the station manager.

Bottlenecks due to strong demand have been exacerbated by strike action over pay, which has cut the frequency of fuel deliveries in half, he said.

The government has responded by releasing fuel from strategic stocks to relieve the shortage, Energy Transition minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told the broadcaster BFMTV late Thursday.

In addition, more supplies were being brought in from neighbouring Belgium and elsewhere, she said.

The supply situation would improve “within two or three days”, she predicted, adding that just 15 percent of all petrol stations in France had been affected.

But Thierry Defresne, head of the European works council at TotalEnergies, told AFP that “every site” at the company had announced their intention to extend strike action.