Downing Street has condemned the “guerrilla tactics” of protesters who have blockaded fuel distribution terminals, as reports of shortages at petrol station forecourts spread and figures showed a fall in fuel deliveries.
Supporters of the Just Stop Oil campaign have taken action at 11 different fuel terminals in England since the start of the month, blockading and trespassing on sites to stop tankers entering, filling up or leaving to deliver fuel.
Petrol retailers say that the protests are not having a serious impact on deliveries. But there have been dozens of local reports of petrol pumps running dry and Priti Patel, the home secretary, said “people across the country [were] seeing their lives brought to a standstill” by disruption caused by the campaign.
The protesters have vowed to continue taking action until the government agrees on a ban on all new fossil fuel projects. On Monday afternoon, their 11th day of action, several were entering their 31st hour chained to pipework at Inter Terminal in Grays, Essex, the third largest terminal in the country.
“We’re doing this because our government is refusing to act on the climate crisis and we need to have a meaningful statement that we will have no new fossil fuel projects, it’s that simple,” said an activist, who gave his name as Nathan, in a video filmed from above the loading bay at the terminal and published on Twitter.
Responding to the protests on Monday, a No 10 spokeswoman said: “We recognise the strength of feeling and the right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, but we won’t tolerate guerrilla tactics that obstruct people going about their day-to-day business.”
She added: “We fully support the police who are putting significant resource into their response to the demonstrations.”
Labour called for injunctions to ban the protests. Labour’s Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, said: “Tory ministers need to get on with their jobs. Motorists were already being hammered by prices at the pump, and now millions can’t even access fuel. This is all happening on the government’s watch. They need to sort it out.”
A government spokesperson said: “These claims are nothing more than irresponsible scaremongering. Just Stop Oil protest activity at some oil terminals has led to short-term disruptions to fuel deliveries over the past few days. The police are working to remove protesters from sites so normal deliveries can resume. We are working closely with industry to ensure that supplies are maintained. The public should continue to purchase fuel as normal.”
Any injunctions would in fact need to be obtained by the operators of fuel terminals rather than the government.
One interim injunction, banning protests around the Kingsbury oil terminal in the Midlands, had a return hearing at the high court on Monday.
The decision on the injunction taken out by Valero Energy against persons unknown was reserved – meaning it will come later – according to a spokesman for the corporate lawyers Shoosmiths.
Retailers insisted the protests were not having a major impact. Sainsbury’s said it was monitoring the situation, but that all its petrol stations continued to receive deliveries.
Morrisons said it supported comments by the British Retail Consortium, whose director of food and sustainability, Andrew Opie, said: “Retailers are adept at dealing with disruption and will do everything they can to ensure their customers can continue to fill up their vehicles as usual.”
A spokesman for the UK Petroleum Industry Association played down the effect that protests were having.
“Fuels continue to be delivered, meaning stocks are being replenished,” he said. “The ongoing protest activity is affecting some deliveries but disruptions are localised and short-term only. The industry is working hard to ensure fuels are being delivered as quickly as possible.”
Local news reports continued to emerge of shortages in various different parts of the country, including Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire, among other places. The first shortages were reported in Kent and Warwickshire as early as 3 April – just two days after activists began taking action.
On Sunday, Fair Fuel UK, which campaigns for cheaper petrol, claimed on Twitter it had “credible intelligence” that one in three pumps were running dry – a claim it quickly reversed after a call from the government.
On Monday Tom Hunt, the MP for Ipswich, said he had had to visit six petrol stations before he was able to refuel his car. “The situation in Ipswich seems to be slightly better than in rural Suffolk, which I was driving through this morning,” he was quoted as saying by the Ipswich Star.
“This is largely linked to the selfish behaviour of activists linked to Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil who have been holding up fuel supplies and blocking crucial depots in the region.”
He added: “The activists in question must not be allowed to do this and to get away with it. I know a number have been arrested but in my view they should immediately be rounded up and severely punished for the immense disruption they are causing.”
Data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, covering the first few days of the campaign, showed that deliveries to petrol stations began falling as the protests took hold, while forecourt reserves appear to be dwindling.
In the three days after the protests began, average daily deliveries were estimated at 33,766 litres per filling station, down by more than a fifth from 43,243 the week before.
The drop-off was even more pronounced in regions served by terminals that were targeted by protesters, with deliveries down 43% in the West Midlands, 44% in London and 48% in the east.
Fuel stock levels at forecourts in affected areas tailed off, with the fall particularly acute in London, where the average forecourt was 28% full on 3 April, down from 40% before the protests began.
New figures, which will show any impact after 3 April, are due to be published later this week.
Just Stop Oil’s coordinators said they had counted 880 arrests by Sunday evening. They said about 400 people had taken part in the campaign so far, and new recruits continued to join. They have vowed to continue their campaign.