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    French motorists scramble for fuel as strike cuts supply

    PARIS (AFP) – Frustrated motorists faced more chaos at petrol pumps across France yesterday 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 yesterday morning. “Where can I get ethanol?” posted another motorist in the hope of filling the tank before the weekend.

    Several of TotalEnergies’ oil refineries have been blockaded by striking workers.

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

    Since the start of September, TotalEnergies has cut petrol prices by EUR0.20 (USD0.19) 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 EUR1.62 per litre, or EUR6.19 per gallon, up around four per cent from only a week ago.

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

    Drivers line up as they wait at a TotalEnergies fuel station in Marseille, southern France. PHOTO: AFP

    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.

    Anthony, a plumber in Paris, said traffic was blocked up yesterday long an entire boulevard when he started his morning rounds, as people tried to reach a TotalEnergies station in the 12th Arrondissement in the east of the capital.

    The government has responded to the shortages by releasing fuel from strategic stocks, Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told the broadcaster BFM television 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, saying that just 15 percent of all petrol stations in France had been affected.

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

    “Shareholders get a lot, but workers are completely forgotten,” Defresne told RMC radio yesterday.

    “Fabulous profits are being made, but they don’t want to offset the impact of inflation,” he said.

    TotalEnergies paid out a special dividend to shareholders totalling EUR2.6 billion (USD2.55 billion) after the company – like most in the sector – made exceptionally large profits from high energy retail prices.

    The government appeared sympathetic to the wage demands yesterday, with Minister for Small and Midsize companies Olivia Gregoire calling on energy majors to “listen to demands for salary rises”.

    Most of the sector’s companies had posted “strong results”, she said. “We expect an effort in favour of workers.”

    Staff at the French branch of oil major ExxonMobil have also demanded higher wages, with angry demonstrators setting fire to wooden crates during a protest in northern France on Wednesday.

    Transport Minister Clement Beaune said fuel trucks would, exceptionally, be allowed to make deliveries tomorrow.

    “We’re doing what we can to resolve this situation over the coming days,” he said.

    TotalEnergies did not give any details about the impact of the strike on its supply situation, with a spokesperson telling AFP simply that the situation was “stable”.

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