Fuel industry ‘must address shortages’


19 January 2012

Following a spate of shortages caused by unplanned shutdowns of fuel refineries, Members of Parliament have urged South Africa’s fuel industry to come up with a coordinated plan to avoid disruptions to the country’s supply.

It emerged during the meeting between members of Parliament’s energy portfolio committee and the fuel industry representatives in Durban on Wednesday that it was difficult to avoid fuel shortages during unplanned shutdowns as it took three weeks for fuel to be imported from overseas.

“We have invited the fuel industry to facilitate the sharing of ideas and trends on the issues of security of fuel supply,” said committee chairman Sisa Njikelana, adding that there was currently no consensus on how to deal with the issue of fuel reserves.

“Some believe that the industry needs more new refineries while others argue that all that is needed is for the existing refineries to be upgraded,” he said.

More fuel supply problems ahead

A warning has been issued that more fuel supply problems will occur as the country’s largest refinery, Sapref in Durban, has gone into full shutdown for unplanned repairs. It was reported the refinery would only be back in full production by mid-February.

The Mercury newspaper reported the refinery shut down at the beginning of the year because of a lack of crude oil during unplanned repairs undertaken at Durban’s Single Buoy Mooring (SBM). Up to 80% of South Africa’s crude oil is imported through the SBM.

It supplies the Sapref and Enref (Engen) refineries in Durban, as well as the Natref refinery in Sasolburg via the pipeline.

Petrol giant Shell halted deliveries after a leak at its Alberton depot led to the shut down of operations recently. Chevron plans to have a major shutdown next month.

Infrastructure upgrade needed

The fuel shortages have left fuel retailers fuming.

Speaking during the meeting on Wednesday, SA Petroleum Retailers Association national director Peter Noke, questioned why the profit made by the fuel industry over the years was not used to upgrade refineries.

“We need to upgrade the infrastructure and ensure that we have sufficient storage facilities inland,” he said.

The association faced a mammoth task of answering the media in a manner that did not create panic during fuel shortages.

SA Petroleum Industry Association executive director Avhapfani Tshifularo, said he was happy that different stakeholders had met to address the problem of fuel shortages.

“It is important to talk about this because unplanned shutdowns make the supply too tight because it takes too long to get supplies from overseas,” he said.