Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC): Incident Analysis: IA05-001
Impact of September 2000 Fuel Price Protests on UK Critical Infrastructure
January 25, 2005
The purpose of this document is to examine the impact of the fuel price protests in the United Kingdom (UK) during September 2000 on the country’s critical infrastructure (CI) and emergency management (EM) sectors. The analysis is based on publicly available information.
This document is primarily intended to provide CI stakeholders and partners with a general outlook for understanding the impact of analogous events while addressing the issues of reliance and interdependencies among different CI sectors.
In September 2000, British farmers and truck drivers launched a dramatic campaign of direct action to protest a fuel duty. Their campaign followed a similar one by farmers, truckers, and fishermen in France, which had resulted in concessions from the French government. The UK protesters blockaded fuel refineries and distribution depots, and, within days, created a fuel crisis that paralyzed CI sectors and brought the country to a virtual halt.
The impact of the protest was much deeper than anticipated because it struck at a particularly vulnerable point of the UK economy -- the oil distribution network, which had been organized along just-in-time delivery principles. This, combined with anticipated shortages by fuel consumers and consequent panic buying, magnified the impact of the protests on practically all CI sectors in the UK. The disruption in the energy sector created a chain reaction among other CI sectors such as transportation, health care, food distribution, financial and government services due to their interconnectivity and interdependencies. The financial impact of the week-long fuel drought was estimated at close to £1 billion (approximately CAN$2.2 billion).
In light of these events, the UK Government was compelled to develop special preventive measures to cover the gaps in the UKfuel delivery system and to design emergency solutions safeguarding the country's fuel supplies.
As a result of the work of the special ministerial fuel taskforce, all major oil companies, unions and police chiefs have signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that set out a series of practical arrangements -- involving all the key parties -- aimed at maintaining continuity of oil supply against possible future disruptions.
Key elements of the MoU commit the relevant parties to:
All in all, the UK fuel price protests in the fall of 2000 demonstrated the direct and debilitating effect of the interruption of the fuel supply on other CI sectors underlining the interdependencies between the energy sector and other CI sectors.
- joint early-warning systems and coordinated contingency plans,
- joint crisis management systems, and
- action to prevent intimidation of tanker drivers.
In the fall of 2000, a wave of protests against high fuel prices moved across Europe. The protests started in late-August with a blockade of English Channel ports by French fishermen, and then spread across France as disgruntled truck drivers and farmers blocked oil refineries and distribution depots to combat high fuel costs. Within a week, concessions by the French government ignited similar protests in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK, creating disruption in cities and cutting off essential services by blocking roads and highways -- reducing the flow of fuel to a trickle. The fuel shortages affected millions of Europeans.
The escalating cost of crude oil contributed to the rise in fuel prices in the fall of 2000. The price of crude had reached a 10-year high -- fluctuating between CAN$46-51 a barrel. Two years previously, a barrel of crude oil cost CAN$14.7 (1).
However, the steep increase in the price of crude oil was only part of the problem. The level of taxation on fuel in Europe is quite high, more notably in Britain, where fuel costs are the highest in Europe. From January 1999 to June 2000, fuel prices increased by more than 40 percent. Depending on the grade of fuel, the tax and duties made up approximately 75 percent of the price of gas and diesel. The average price of a litre of premium unleaded gasoline stood at CAN$1.85 and CAN$1.95 in London in September 2000 (2).
The actions in Europe followed the successful protests in France. At the beginning of September, the French government awarded fuel tax concessions to fishermen, truck drivers, farmers and others heavily dependent on gas and diesel sectors. Being forced to offer subsidies and targeted concessions, the French government has paid a heavy price for extinguishing the fuel price protests in the year 2000. Officials estimated the financial cost of ending the dispute at $460 million (greater than CAN$1 billion) (3). Consequently, the French government's retreat in the face of this public rally motivated fuel price protestors throughout Europe.
The September fuel crisis in the UK involved a number of players. Oil companies were often overlooked in the abundant flow of media information covering the week of September 6, aside of the two obvious players, the UK Government and protestors. Some analysts described a rather peculiar position of the oil companies during the week of the protests and even provided evidence that the oil industries colluded with protesters to cut the country's fuel supply (4). The Keel University researchers argued that "while [oil companies] may lose short term sales [,] the longer term impact of reductions in fuel duty, or even simply preventing future increase in fuel duty, would be highly beneficial in terms of simulating demand" (5).
CRONOLOGY OF THE EVENTS IN THE UK
Protests were triggered on September 5, 2000 when it was announced that fuel prices were to rise again following a rise in the price of crude oil. The Channel Tunnel was blockaded in protest on September 6. On September 7, the first oil refinery, at Stanlow, Chesire, was blockaded. Protests spread rapidly with more refineries blockaded on September 8 resulting in nation-wide panic buying of fuel on September 9. On Sunday, September 10, the protests had closed Britain's largest oil terminal at Kingsbury, West Midlands, and huge queues at gas stations were reported. By Tuesday, September 12, protesters had blocked six of the UK's eight refineries. Over half of Britain's gas stations were shut. The protest ended almost as quickly as it had begun. On September 14, the Stanlow blockage ended and on September 15 the first fuel deliveries were reaching some gas stations, although it was estimated that 90 percent of gas stations were empty of fuel (6).
The termination of the fuel protests across Britain marked the beginning of the end of the crisis that disrupted UK CI sectors and brought the country to a virtual standstill. On September 15, oil companies were concentrating deliveries on fuel stations designated as priority outlets by the government. The number of deliveries was increased from 2,500 to 3,300-298 for essential users only (7). On September 16, motorists were warned that they could still face a wait of up to two weeks for gas, despite the lifting of nearly all the blockades at UK refineries on September 14 (8).
The demonstrators abandoned their protests before their demands for cheaper fuel had been met giving the government a 60-day deadline to reduce the fuel duty. But the government categorically ruled out a quick cut in duty (9). In September 2000, it set up a fuel "taskforce" comprised of ministers, police and oil firm executives, in an effort to put in place more robust systems to avoid disruption of fuel supplies.
CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE IMPACTED
The fuel price protests exposed the interdependencies of practically each CI sector of the UK economy on continuous fuel supply and resulted in direct and indirect impacts on CI in the UK. Direct impacts of the protests included the widespread disruption of the energy sector caused by the blockade of oil refineries and fuel depots, and the interruption of the transportation sector as a result of drivers going on strike, "go-slow" demonstrations on highways and roads as well as the fuel shortages in gas stations. Several CI sectors, including health care, food distribution, finance and government, demonstrated their dependency on energy and transportation sectors. The financial impact of the week-long fuel drought was estimated to top £1 billion (approximately CAN$ 2.2 billion) (10).
The energy sector was the most severely affected CI sector by the fuel price protests because access to gasoline was used as leverage by protestors in bargaining with the UK Government.
Protestors organized a national blockade of oil refineries and distribution depots. After five days of protest, six of Britain's eight refineries were blocked (11), and tankers could not leave oil refineries and fuel depots to transport gasoline to stations where it could be distributed. Gas stations did not have large gasoline reserves, relying on a system of just-in-time delivery, and were unable to distribute fuel in the absence of tanker deliveries (12). This system relied on tanker deliveries to individual stations, up to three times a day, depending on the volume of fuel sold at each location. As such, the availability of gasoline at stations was highly vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain. By September 12, about half of Britain's gas stations were shut down, and those with remaining fuel stocks started to ration purchases (13).
The impact of fuel shortages quickly threatened to spread to other CI sectors (such as transportation, health care and government) through significant fuel interdependencies -- the cascading effect on these sectors will be described in the following sub-sections. Recognizing the real and potential impacts in these areas, the Privy Council authorized the Department of Trade and Industry to order oil companies to deliver gasoline to 298 priority stations across the country (14). The government further stipulated that a number of industries and services were eligible for priority access to fuel at these locations (see Appendix A: Britain's Essential Services). When the fuel blockades were lifted on September 14 and tanker deliveries recommenced, the limited supply was allocated on a priority basis to these essential services until at least September 16. The UK Petrol Retailer's Association said that resupplying empty stations presented "a massive logistical problem," and fuel companies warned that it would be weeks before the situation at gas stations returned to normal (15).
The transportation sector was disrupted through direct and indirect means. The direct impact of "go-slow" demonstrations resulted in temporary traffic delays on major highways and city roads. Striking truck and taxi drivers caused disruptions by removing their vehicles from the service.
The most severe impacts were caused by the sector's reliance on gasoline, with both private and public transportation systems being interrupted by the lack of fuel. Reports suggest that 29 percent of private motorists were forced to stop driving because they did not have gasoline (16). In turn, public transportation systems were strained by fuel shortages and an increase in the number of passengers. The London Underground experienced overcrowding as the number of users increased up to five percent on the three-million daily norm (17). Some train services in London were cancelled after fuel depots ran dry. Several London bus companies were forced to substantially cut their services because of the lack of fuel and because drivers could not get to work (18). Even when fuel deliveries started on September 14, bus companies across the country restricted their passenger services to conserve dwindling fuel stocks and warned that these measures could stay in place for several days (19).
The National Health Service (NHS) was principally impacted by its reliance on the transportation of staff, patients and supplies. The disruptions in gasoline supply affected the ability of some medical staff to use their usual means of transport to get to work, which resulted in medical staff shortages (20). Hundreds of gas stations across the country set up piecemeal local rationing schemes, often supervised by the police, and tried to conserve limited fuel supplies for medical personnel. These measures were ineffective and several hospitals around the country were forced to cancel routine operations and to limit admissions to emergency cases only.
Ambulance services were disrupted by shortages of gasoline and limited to calls from patients in need of serious assistance. Ambulance crews in some areas were instructed to keep their speed below 34.2 km/h on all non-emergency responses to save fuel (21). Many operators instructed their staff to respond only to emergency calls. One media report noted that ambulance services in Surrey could not respond to emergency 999 (911) calls while they waited to receive extra supplies of gasoline (22).
There were conflicting reports about the extent to which shortages of fuel impacted the ability of vehicles to transport supplies to hospitals. Government, Ministry of Health and some media sources tended to stress that the protests were having a negative impact on the NHS. Reports emphasized low reserves of food stores for hospitals in the West Midlands, medicines at pharmacies in Portsmouth and blood stocks in the Eastern NHS region (23). It was also reported that some hospitals were unable to remove hazardous clinical waste from their facilities, creating a public health risk, and that the Royal Hull Hospital had run out of stitches for operations (24).
On September 13, the Prime Minister told protesters that they were putting "lives at risk" by depriving essential services, and the government placed the NHS on "red alert" for the first time in 11 years (25). This measure instructed all local health services to implement emergency readiness plans, which enabled them to cancel regular services at a moment's notice in order to treat emergency cases only. The NHS remained on red alert and normal health care services did not resume for several days after the lifting of the blockades (26).
While there is some debate as to the extent of the impact on health services, it is clear that the NHS incurred organizational and financial costs as a result of disruptions in the transportation sector. The cancellation of elective and non-emergency surgeries and procedures created a significant backlog, which would take the NHS a significant period of time to process. Additional financial costs involved housing accommodations for essential staff in hotels, expenses for cancelled and rescheduled procedures, and for using outside suppliers for essential goods. The Department of Health said that it was impossible to quantify the cost of the fuel crisis, but experts contend that it ran into millions of pounds (27).
Two factors reduced the availability of food for distribution during the fuel crisis. First, disruptions in the transportation sector prevented the shipment of food goods from producers to vendors. Similar to gasoline distributors, supermarkets rely on daily just-in-time deliveries rather than maintaining large stockpiles of goods. This mode of business proved to be highly vulnerable to transportation disruptions as there was very little stock to meet consumer demand when the supply of just-in-time goods was interrupted. Each day of the fuel protests further affected food deliveries, depleting the small reserves kept by supermarkets.
The second factor influencing shortages was increased demand and panic buying. The uncertainty of how long the fuel protests would disrupt food supplies caused consumers to alter their normal purchasing behaviour and attempt to acquire more goods than usual. The grocery chain Spar noted that its food sales had increased by 300 percent (28). The sight of empty shelves triggered some consumers to stockpile goods in sufficient volumes to endure a prolonged food supply shortage. Hence, by September 13 panic buying had commenced across Britain, some shops were bare of bread and milk, and a number of supermarkets began rationing food purchases (29).
Financial and Banking Sectors
Limited information exists concerning the impact of the fuel protests on banking and financial services. The sector was dependent on the transportation industry for the movement of money and financial notes. Disruptions to the transportation sector during other incidents have affected the ability of banks to supply automatic teller machines (ATM) with cash, resulting in ATM service outages (30). However, the banks stated that there were no serious interruptions in daily operations. They did not have to resort to any drastic action after securing a place on the government's priority fuel list for the armoured vehicles, which transport money around Britain (31).
As expected, British businesses were severely affected by the lack of fuel and reduced transportation. Negative impacts included disruptions in the transportation of staff and consumers, and, again, the just-in-time shipment of supplies, parts and finished products due to interconnectivity, and reliance on business partners for services. The London Chamber of Commerce estimated that 10 percent of the economy's daily output was being disrupted by the protests (32).
Industry leaders noted that large parts of the economy, including steel and motor manufacturers, faced the threat of shutdowns, cutbacks and closures had the fuel crisis lasted any longer. Car manufacturers were within a week of shutdown by the time supplies started flowing again. Defence and aerospace industries were also within a week of "serious problems," and steel makers had been on the brink of a 40 percent reduction in output (33). Some companies started reducing the size and scope of their operations. The London Chamber of Commerce warned the crisis was costing British business $250 million (more than CAN$ 562 million) a day (34).
Postal services were gradually reduced over the course of the protests. The Royal Mail reported serious delays, and it was warned that its postal deliveries were being "seriously threatened" (35). Guaranteed next day delivery was suspended, and a plan that prioritized deliveries was implemented to ensure that social security payments were not disrupted.
PREVENTIVE MEASURES IMPLEMENTED
The British government set up a ministerial task force, headed by then -- UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to examine the practical lessons learned from the week-long fuel crisis and to decide what emergency preparedness measures were necessary to safeguard the country's fuel supplies in the future. The task force was also made up of senior oil industry figures, top police officers and ministers. Jack Straw said (36): "This situation has not arisen before. One of the complexities that we have learned is of the internal management structure of the oil companies..." Mr. Straw also noted that it was about "public order, public safety and, above all, ensuring a free flow of petrol into our economy and our society" (37).
As result of the task force work, the Memorandum of Understanding(see the full text in Appendix B: Memorandum of Understanding) was signed on September 29, 2000 by four cabinet ministers of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Association of Chief Police Officers, the five major oil companies and several major truck companies. It was anticipated that this arrangement would support maintaining continuity of oil supplies to all customers and minimize the risk of disruptions in the event of future blockades (refer to Appendix C: FullList of Signatories).
The memorandum, drawn by the government's fuel supply task force, committed members to work together to secure normal supplies of oil (38). Details as to exactly what action the police and government might undertake to keep the tankers moving in the event of future protests were kept secret for security reasons.
The key elements of the task force plan, which were made public, included (39):
- joint early-warning systems to alert authorities of the threat of protests,
- coordinated contingency plans in case of attempts to disrupt supplies,
- joint crisis management systems, and
- action to prevent the potential for, and allegations of, intimidation of tanker drivers.
Jack Straw stated the plan could not guarantee that Britain's fuel pumps would not run dry again, but added that it would at least reduce the risk. He further mentioned: "It is not possible to eliminate all risk to oil supplies. Our aim has been a practical one of reducing the risk. The idea of the memorandum of understanding to ensure that every signatory -- the oil companies, central government, the devolved administrations, the police, the trade unions -- is involved in taking the necessary contingency action against possible future disruption" (40).
The fuel taskforce also made recommendations to protect food depots, major roads and to look after other potential targets other than oil depots in case of potential public rally (41). Health services and fire stations have been advised to keep on-site fuel stocks. Designated gas stations have been assigned for key staff members, and alternative arrangements have been made for railways. The supermarkets have also taken additional measures to maintain delivery schedules and to keep shelves stocked (42).
The fuel price protests in the United Kingdom in September 2000 revealed how everyday life could be affected by disruptions of fuel supplies. As dramatic as they were, the events of September 2000 acted as a catalyst for further development and implementation of robust and collaborative mechanisms to create mitigation strategies to deal with uncovered points of vulnerability in the UK fuel and other associated CI sectors.
In turn, the British fuel crisis of 2000 emphasized the importance of understanding the interdependencies between the fuel energy sector and other CI sectors. It became apparent that the reliance of the transportation sector on the fuel supply industry increased a degree of the debilitating effect of fuel supply deficiency on other CI sectors. Thus, the failure in the related sector triggered an direct impact on a number of other CI sectors due to their dependence on transportation.
The September 2000 fuel protests also illustrated the vulnerability of CI sectors, resulting from a lack of flexibility inherent in existing production and distribution networks, not only in the energy CI sector but also transportation, food supply and health services.
Britain's Essential Services
The government has ordered that workers from the following industries and services are eligible for priority access to fuel which tankers have been delivering to 298 gasoline stations across the country.
- Emergency services
- Armed forces
- Health and social workers
- Food industry
- Agriculture, veterinary and animal welfare
- Essential workers at nuclear sites
- Water, sewerage and drainage
- Fuel and energy suppliers
- Public transport
- Licensed taxis
- Coastguards and lifeboat crews
- Airport and airline workers
- Postal, media, telecommunications
- Central and local government workers
- Essential financial services staff including those involved in the delivery of cash and cheques
- Prison staff
- Refuse collection and industrial waste
- Funeral services
- Special schools and colleges for the disabled
- Essential foreign diplomatic workers
Source: Britain's Essential Services. BBC News Online: UK.15 September 2000. 4 July 2003 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/925662.stm>.
Memorandum of Understanding
1. The UK Government, the Scottish Executive, the Cabinet of the National Assembly for Wales, the companies below, the Trades Union Congress and the police continue to be committed to the normal supply of oil fuels as a national priority and economic imperative, in a manner which ensures the safety of their employees, their contractors and the public.
2. The UK Government, the Scottish Executive, the Cabinet of the National Assembly for Wales, the companies below and the police are engaged in joint planning and processes with the aim of preserving supply and, in the event of unavoidable supply disruption, of protecting supplies to defined essential users. For obvious security reasons not all details can be published, but the main elements of the planning, information and management system will include the following:
(a) Implementation of early warning systems and related contingency plans.
(b) Reviewing the level, location and role of oil fuel stocks in the event of disruption.
(c) Facilitating the movement of oil fuels to users, and, in particular, to defined essential users.
(d) Controlling the delivery of oil fuels to customers in the event of disruption to supplies.
(e) Agreeing crisis management systems.
3. In an emergency, the UK Government will be responsible for overall policy and strategy.
4. An essential element of the arrangements is the establishment by the UK Government, the Scottish Executive, the Cabinet of the National Assembly for Wales, the companies below and the police of an effective crisis management system, with clear guidelines and
appropriate flexibility for local implementation in accordance with local circumstances. It is recognised that appropriate communication and consultation with the workforces and the relevant trade unions at national and local level will need to be a key part of these arrangements.
5. In the event of a significant disruption, or threat of significant disruption, to normal supply, the UK Government will request that a jointly managed approach to the distribution of oil fuels be implemented, with priority for defined essential users,
on the basis of arrangements currently the subject of further joint working.
6. The companies below and the police commit to work together to implement consistent arrangements aimed at securing the unimpeded and safe movement of oil fuels. To this end the UK Government, the Scottish Executive and the Cabinet of the National Assembly for Wales are willing to consider exercising their powers to permit certain flexibilities and temporary changes in the application of regulations, after consultation with relevant parties, and without prejudice to safety. The companies below and the police commit to work together to deal with the potential for and allegations of
7. The UK Government, the Scottish Executive, the Cabinet of the National Assembly for Wales, the companies below, the Trades Union Congress, and the police reaffirm their determination to maintain the continuity of supply and distribution of oil fuels without
prejudice to safety.
8. Implementation of this Memorandum of Understanding will be carried out in compliance with all applicable competition law.
9. The parties below will review progress on the implementation of this Memorandum of Understanding on a regular basis, which will include a programme of inspections, testing and exercises.
10. The parties below agree that, subject to further discussions with the UK Government, other companies and organisations may become parties to this Memorandum of Understanding, or appropriate sections of it.
Date: 29 September 2000
Source: The full text of the MoU and the full list of signatories from the Internet
Full List of Signatories
1. The MoU has been signed by the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Minister for Transport (DETR), the First Secretary, National Assembly for Wales, the Deputy First Minister and Minister for
Justice, Scottish Executive, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Trades Union Congress, the following oil companies -- BP, Shell UK, Esso, TotalFina Elf, Conoco, Texaco -- and the Association of UK Oil Independents. Several major haulier companies, P& O Trans European, Hoyer UK, Excel Tankfreight plc have also signed.
2. Northern Irelandwas not affected by the recent fuel dispute. Similar and complementary arrangements are under consideration for Northern Ireland, with mechanisms for ensuring close and effective coordination with the relevant parties in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Source: The full text of the MoU and the full list of signatories are from the Internet
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