Home heating oil and commercial motor diesel have started being rationed across Ireland as oil companies seek to manage supplies in the face of an unprecedented surge in demand.
Many home heating oil suppliers have capped the amounts they will sell to domestic users to 500 litres – less than half the capacity of a standard oil tank.
The limits started being imposed in the middle of last week in the face of a spike in demand with many homeowners seeking to counter rising prices by buying more oil than they are likely to need as they head in to the summer months.
Oil and gas prices have continued to rise sharply on world markets as the Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies.
The cost of home heating oil has climbed higher and faster than other fossil fuels in Ireland with prices almost doubling from around €400 for 500 litres to close to €800 in just a matter of months.
While industry sources stressed there were sufficient stocks to meet normal demand, they warned that fuel stockpiling could easily and quickly put unnecessary pressure on supplies.
Hauliers and farmers with storage facilities who have tried to stock up on motor fuel have also had limits imposed on the amounts they can buy by some oil companies.
Consumption in the domestic heating sector tends to be very predictable and follows set patterns which has allowed oil companies to accurately gauge how much stock they will need at certain times of the year to avoid spending money on unnecessary and expensive storage.
However the precise nature of the stock control means that if consumption patterns deviate even slightly from the norm – as they have done in recent weeks – it can quickly put short-term pressure on supplies.
“We are very busy trying to clear a backlog and are limiting sales to 500 litres,” one company based in the west of Ireland told The Irish Times. “There are a lot of people trying to stock up because fuel prices are just going up and up.”
Other companies serving eastern counties said sales had also been limited to 500 litres since last Wednesday.
While 500 litres of fuel is less than half of what a normal domestic oil tank can hold, it would be sufficient to power an average sized home for many months, particularly between now and the end of October.
Kevin McPartlan of Fuels for Ireland, the umbrella group which represents the sector stressed that there was sufficient supplies of oil, petrol and diesel in Ireland to meet demand.
He said there had been no agreement amongst companies to impose limits although he said he was aware some companies had been restricting sales in some instances.
“There are adequate supplies to meet normal buying patterns and we would encourage people to buy fuel as they normally do,” he said.
Oil briefly hit its highest level since 2008 on Monday, while wholesale gas prices rose a further 18 per cent and have more than doubled in the past week.
In a statement, the ESB – a major gas user in its electric plants – pointed out that the wholesale gas prices it faces had increased 16-fold over the past year, based on prices on Monday morning.
The Government is under increasing pressure to take some steps to offset the worst of the fuel price hikes. More than 60 per cent of the price of a litre of fuel is made up of taxes and measures are currently being explored to see how tax reductions can be passed on to consumers in the weeks ahead.
The Irish Road Haulage Association met Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe on Monday morning to discuss the worsening fuel crisis. Speaking on RTÉ Radio, the president of the association Eugene Drennan called for “radical and sizeable” support warning that some drivers would have to park their trucks in the absence of action.
“They’ll have to, when your back is to the wall you’ve no choice,” Mr Drennan said. “It’s a radical time, people may need to do whatever but they can’t stay working.”