IrelandEnergy Crisis

Fuel rationing: Essential workers to get petrol station priority if winter shortages occur

Government emergency group devises worst-case-scenario plans for oil and gas shortages amid anxiety about winter ahead

More than 40 categories of emergency and essential workers will be given access to a network of 130 service stations across the country in the event of a severe shortage requiring fuel rationing, under the latest Government plan.

The plans are considered to be the “worst-case scenario” and would come into effect in the event of severe oil supply disruption as Europe remains on edge about a shutdown of energy following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Under the Government plan, if there is severe disruption, some 130 “designated critical service stations” would remain open to provide fuel only to essential workers.

Essential workers would be able to get fuel not only for their official vehicles but also for other vehicles needed to get to and from work, a source said.


Sources have said technical checks are now under way on pumps to determine if a limit on sales to non-essential workers of 15 to 20 litres could also be put in place, with suggestions that gardaí or soldiers will also have to man the petrol stations in the event of disputes.

There are four tiers to which bulk fuels will be rationed, the first being these designated critical stations. An updated list of workers who can use these include: gardaí; the Defence Forces; fire services; the National Ambulance Service; the Irish Prison Service; Civil Defence; the Irish Coast Guard; the Order of Malta; St John’s Ambulance Service; the Irish Red Cross; the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and any other organisation deemed appropriate by Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan.

Others deemed to be essential workers include those in port facilities and shipping; commercial aviation; public transport; haulage services; healthcare workers; teachers and childminders; postal services; food production; journalists; financial services; agriculture (including the movement of livestock) and funeral services, among others. The list runs to more than 40 organisations or professions.

Any other bulk fuels, if available, would be distributed to non-critical haulage or support services to critical services under the second tier, non-critical service stations under the third tier, and other drivers under the fourth tier.

There are also contingency plans in place for gas rationing. If Ireland was to be affected by serious gas shortages, similar rationing plans have been drawn up that would be divided between direct gas users and electricity users, as the power sector is a primary consumer of gas. Hospitals, schools and home heating would be prioritised.

The plans are being drawn up as part of work by the Government’s new Energy Security Emergency Group which is planning for potential oil or gas shortages in Ireland and examining modelling scenarios. The body has various subgroups looking specifically at gas security, oil security and communications strategies among other topics. The subgroups meet either every week or every fortnight and are made up of senior Government officials and industry figures.

Industry sources have privately expressed concern about the winter period ahead, warning that any sudden threat of a cut-off of Russian energy could result in panic buying among customers, which would create a supply shock. The National Oil Reserves Agency currently holds about 85 days of oil stocks.

Government sources said the worst-case-scenario planning is unlikely to come to pass, but there is growing anxiety about the winter ahead.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment said the selection of the critical petrol stations was done with the cooperation of the industry.

The spokesman said supply disruptions of varying degrees were recently modelled.

“In the context of worst-case scenarios, a number of service stations would be deemed Designated Critical Service Stations. These would ensure that fuel would be available for emergency and critical services in extreme circumstances. A list of such service stations is compiled with the assistance of industry body Fuels for Ireland (FFI). Emergency planning also includes measures around the identification and prioritisation of critical services, and personnel within these services, to ensure the provision of fuel to these critical services and personnel,” he said.

“Given the supply position and outlook, the activation of any such plans is not envisaged, however. As is the case for all other jurisdictions across Europe, such planning is appropriate in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the EU response in terms of sanctions. Detailed operational matters around contingency planning are not published.”

Last month, European Union leaders were warned at an EU summit that Russia may starve their countries of gas and unleash a winter of economic misery on their populations. In France, energy-intensive companies are speeding up contingency plans to convert their gas boilers to run on oil amid fears of further reductions in the gas supply from Russia.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times