Fuel crisis: drivers face rationing
MINISTERS fear fuel supplies are on the verge of widespread disruption and have drawn up plans to deploy troops to guard refineries and introduce petrol rationing.
Sky-high forecourt prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have prompted veteran fuel protesters to threaten motorway go-slows and refinery blockades in the coming week.
The government has responded by drawing up unprecedented plans to keep fuel supplies moving, using the military if necessary.
Scotland on Sunday can also reveal that hauliers' leaders have been summoned to the Department of Trade and Industry and warned that drivers will face the full force of the law if unlawful protests take place.
Petrol prices have soared to the region of 1 a litre, reigniting fears that there could be a repeat of the protests of 2000 that caused widespread panic and brought much of the country to a halt.
Welsh fuel protesters have said they will attempt to bring the M4 to a standstill this Friday.
Another group claims it will begin blockading refineries as soon as Wednesday.
The government's emergency plan lays out:
Extra security to protect refineries, and military drivers to take charge of tankers;
Rationing of supplies sold at forecourts;
Priority supplies for emergency vehicles;
"Demand-calming measures" to cut public consumption and conserve stocks.
Despite the plan, officials and the haulage industry are keen to talk down the prospect of fuel protests for fear of sparking panic. Chancellor Gordon Brown also attempted to calm the situation, insisting the economic impact of the soaring fuel prices would be "limited".
But behind the scenes in government, colleagues are preparing for the possibility that an upsurge in public unrest could destabilise the fuel supply.
A DTI official said the government was determined not to be "caught on the hop, like in 2000".
"The prognosis is fluctuating, but we expect disruption," he admitted, "and the go-slow [in Wales] will only harden the growing expectation of trouble."
In a series of meetings last week, ministers and officials prepared the ground for the first use of the "downstream oil resilience" emergency plan, designed to keep Britain's fuel network intact at a time of crises including terrorist attack or natural disaster.
In an indication of the priority ministers are giving to the situation, hauliers' leaders were also summoned to discuss the problems at DTI in London. They were warned that police now had the powers to break up blockades and go-slow convoys.
The crisis plan, thrashed out after protesters almost brought the country to a standstill during fuel protests five years ago, sets out the use of emergency powers to allow the government to take over the supply of fuel and protect it from any threats.
The original fuel protesters were able to disrupt supplies by blocking tankers coming in and out of the network of refineries that serve businesses and petrol stations across the country.
The government's contingency plans would enable extra security to protect the refineries, including Grangemouth, keeping activists far from the gates, and allow for military drivers to take charge of tankers and keep supplies moving. Up to 1,000 soldiers were taught to drive tankers during the last crisis and remain on standby.
The document sets out the "command structure" tasked to deal with threats to the fuel network.
In a blunt assessment of the additional powers available to ministers, it adds: "In the event that there exists, or is believed to be imminent, an actual or threatened emergency in the UK affecting fuel supplies, emergency powers under the Energy Act 1976 may be brought into force.
"These powers allow the regulation or prohibition of the production, supply, acquisition or use of oil products."
Hauliers and activists last night maintained that they would continue with their campaign.
Andrew Spence, leader of the 2000 protests, has promised to reignite the campaign on Wednesday if the government fails to make an immediate cut in oil duties.
"The blockades start next Wednesday," said Rob Austin, of the Campaign For Fair Fuel Prices. "The boys from Downing Street can't say they didn't expect it."
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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Wind direction: West
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