No evidence government spreading fuel shortage rumours to sell surplus

29 September 2021
What was claimed

The government orchestrated the fuel panic to sell off soon-to-expire fuel stocks built up during the pandemic.

Our verdict

There is no evidence of this. There wasn’t a build up of fuel stocks during the pandemic. Supply fell to meet reduced demand.

What was claimed

The pumps can now be filled with E10 fuel which will destroy old cars.

Our verdict

E10 fuel is intended to phase out standard E5 fuel and isn’t suitable for all older cars. However, super unleaded E5 fuel will still be available.

Posts on Facebook claim recent fuel shortages were orchestrated by the government and industry in order to sell off fuel surpluses accumulated during the pandemic before they expired. 

There is no evidence for this.

Oxidation and evaporation can, over time, affect the performance of petrol and diesel. The RAC says that petrol has a shelf life of around six months if stored in a sealed container, while diesel can last up to a year. 

And it is true that the pandemic reduced the sales of fuel. 

Government statistics show the demand for petroleum products for transport fell from around 11 million tonnes in the first quarter of 2020 to just under six million tonnes in the second quarter.  

Demand has increased since but is still well below levels seen before the pandemic.

But it’s false to suggest that low fuel sales mean the UK has a surplus of fuel at risk of expiration.

The statistics show that as demand for fuel fell, so did the supply. The data available up until the first quarter of 2021 shows the supply of all petroleum products (of which about two thirds goes to transport) exceeded demand in only one quarter since the start of the pandemic, amounting to 0.08% of demand.

Similarly, data from petrol stations shows that their fuel stocks remained at normal levels throughout the pandemic. While there were increases as the country went into national lockdown in March and December 2020, stock levels quickly reverted to type. 

Looking beyond just the stock at petrol stations, overall UK stocks of crude oil and petroleum products did not increase during the pandemic as claimed. 

This means there were no big surpluses of fuel gathered during the pandemic which would now need to be sold quickly before they expired.

The government has denied the accusations of a conspiracy, with Reuters reporting a spokesperson for the business department as saying they are “completely absurd.”

Ministers have blamed the fuel shortage on panic buying sparked after ITV reported that BP was intending to reduce fuel deliveries.  Some others have argued the problem has been exacerbated by a shortage of delivery drivers (although the number needed is disputed).  

One graphic going viral on Facebook also claims the emptying of petrol stations frees up space for E10 fuel which “will destroy your older vehicles forcing you to buy a newer one.”

E10 is a new petrol containing up to 10% ethanol and will replace standard E5 fuel. Not all cars can run with E10 fuel, though the government has confirmed that it will maintain a supply of super unleaded E5 fuel for these vehicles. You can check if your vehicle can run on E10 petrol here.  

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because there is no evidence of an excess of fuel about to expire, let alone a conspiracy to sell it on by manufacturing a fuel crisis.

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