For several days, fuel has become a scarce commodity in France. And when it is available, this good is also more expensive. One of the reasons? The significant increase in imports of finished petroleum products to compensate for the fall in domestic refining production.
Every year, France consumes 46 million tons of liquid fuel for transportation. Diesel represents about 75% of this consumption and gasoline 25%. As for gasoline, the refining activity in France usually covers all the national needs and there is even a slight surplus. Therefore, a small part of the gasoline produced in the territory is exported. On the other hand, this is not at all the case for diesel, where France imports around 50% of its consumption.
France imports gasoline, while it is traditionally an exporter
Faced with the strike movement that affects almost all the refineries in France (six out of seven, only the one in Lavéra, in Bouches du Rhône, owned by Pétroineos, has not left), the operators are forced to import more fuel. Thus, for several days, France has been importing gasoline, when it is normally an exporter and is also importing more diesel than usual, we explained to Ufip Energies et Mobilités, which represents professionals in the sector.
According to this organization, these increases in imports are significant, but impossible to quantify with great precision at the moment. And for good reason, import volumes are not known in real time. They will only be consolidated in four months by the customs services.
However, we can consider that they have increased by around 50% compared to the usual level, in order to compensate for the stoppage of production in the three largest French refineries, which are the Esso refineries in Fos-sur-Mer (Bouches du Rhône) and Port-Jérôme-Gravenchon (Seine Maritime), as well as the Normandy refinery based in Gonfreville-l’Orchet (Seine-Maritime) and operated by TotalEnergies.
Appeal to neighboring countries
” The state plays no role in imports. The fuels are imported by the operators », explains Frédéric Plan, General Delegate of the French Federation of Fuels, Fuels and Heating (FF3C). Operators, there are about twenty in France. Among them: TotalEnergies, Esso-ExxonMobil, but also BP, Avia, Bolloré or even the purchasing centers of supermarkets.
To quickly import more finished oil products, these companies turn in particular to the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, whose refining capacities are very large. And to a lesser extent to Luxembourg and Belgium, where fuels are transported by tanker trucks.
These import operations were carried out outside the supply contracts. These annual contracts never cover all the needs of the operators and are usually supplemented by purchases in the spot market. It is in this market where emergency imports are carried out today. However, this market has been very tight since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the imminent entry into force of the embargo on Russian crude oil (December 2022) and refined products (January 2023).
Additional cost linked to the spot market
Results, ” cash purchases are not made at friendly prices », points out an expert in the sector. Added to this are the refining margins and the cost of transportation. ” Independent stations, which represent 8% of the market share in France, do not have a supply contract. They source exclusively from the spot market. Therefore, they face additional costs of about 20 cents per liter without VAT, that is, an impact of 24 cents for the consumer. »explains Frederic Plan.
Bulk diesel is also subject to a surcharge, that is, that which does not pass through the network of service stations, but rather is delivered directly to carriers and works. This represents 25% of diesel delivered in France. France’s refining capacities have been gradually declining over the last ten years. In 2021 they amounted to 1.14 million barrels per day, almost half of German capacity (2.1 million barrels per day), according to BP’s latest annual report.
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