Strikes continue to cripple French refinery operations

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Oct. 13 -- Now in their third week, strikes blocking the Fos-Lavera oil terminal in southern France have been extended to join up with those in the transportation sector and others that began Oct. 12 throughout the country. The original strike, which began Sept. 27, continues to prevent oil shipments in or out of the port and is tightening product supplies in the region and crippling local refinery operations.

While the transportation strikes and others seem to be easing, industrial action is hardening at refineries throughout the country as well as at port terminals. Compagnie Industrielle et Maritime (CIM) at Le Havre port in Normandy, which operates the oil terminal, has been hit by a strike that restricts supplies to Total SA’s Donges refinery as well as to the Petroplus Petit Couronne refinery in Normandy.

Petroplus Pres. Jean-Paul Vettier told OGJ that the shift workers at Petit-Couronne in Normandy have been striking since Oct. 12, forcing down refinery runs to “the technical minimum.” Whether or not to extend the strike will be decided later Oct. 13 by the workers, he said.

There are no strikes at Esso’s two refineries, one at Fos and the other at Port-Jerome in Normandy, according to company spokesman Emmanuel du Granrut. A short strike at the Fos refinery Oct. 12 disturbed the distribution flow. Esso has enough reserves to keep going for the time being, Du Granrut said, and is not impacted by the CIM strike.

All told, and as much as can be determined during what has become a fast-paced situation, 8 of France’s 12 refineries now are either on strike or gradually shutting down for lack of feedstock. All 6 of Total’s refineries are on strike. The Provence refinery has been gradually shutting down since Oct. 10 for lack of crude.

Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres (UFIP) Pres. Jean-Louis Schilansky estimated that the continuing blockade of the Fos-Lavera terminal might well lead to fuel shortages in the south next week. Currently, 55 vessels are idled at Fos-Lavera, 39 of which are carrying crude and products.

Some of the country's 160 depots were also blocked currently, but the authorities have tried to reassure motorists by saying that there were still 90 days’ worth of strategic stocks in the country. The problem remains bringing this oil to the distribution outlets as motorists are starting to queue at retail outlets.

The latest event is a strike of the tugboat operators, which push methane carriers to their berth at the three GDF Suez LNG terminals of Fos Cavaou, Fos Tonkin, and Montoir-de-Bretagne. A GDF Suez spokesman, however, told OGJ that the tanks were full so there was no impact so far on operations.

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