French farmers launch blockade of oil refineries and fuel depots

French farmers started occupying oil refineries and fuel depots around the country on Sunday night and have promised to do so for at least the next three days. But why are they there and what do they want?

French farmers launch blockade of oil refineries and fuel depots
Photo: AFP
Members of France's leading farmer's unions, the FNSEA and Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers) union called on their members to occupy 14 oil refineries and fuel depots run by French multinational oil and gas company Total for three days. 
The occupation, which began on Sunday night, is taking place at oil refineries in Lyon, Gonfreville-l'Orcher, Le Havre, Grandpuits (Seine-et-Marne), La Mède (Bouches-du-Rhone), as well as the oil depots at the port of Rhone Edouard Herriot, the port of the Rhine, Vatry (Marne), Lespinasse near Toulouse, Coignières (Yvelines) and Cournon in Puy-de-Dôme. 
Farmers also planned to prevent access to oil refineries at Dunkirk (North), Grigny (Essonne), Gennevilliers (Hauts-de-Seine) and one in Donges (Loire-Atlantique).
Farmers parked tractors in front of refinery gates while dumping piles of  haystacks, dirt, manure and potatoes.
At least 200 farmers also began to dump dirt on the roads leading to the Total refinery in Grandpuits (Seine-et-Marne) at around 11pm on Sunday night and installed some 40 tractors, according to Sébastien Guérinot, president of the Jeunes Agricultures in the department.
“We are only blocking Total's fuel trucks that want to get in or out. Not the staff, nor other vehicles, nor help,” Guérinot told the French press.
To put the action in perspective France has seven refineries in total and around 200 fuel depots around the country. It is unclear how long the action will go one for with unions saying the initial blockade will be three days, but may be continued. Some farmers have already made it clear they are in it for the long run.
So, why are French farmers going to all this trouble?
They have various motives but one of the primary causes is their objection to palm oil being imported into the biofuel market.
“France imports several products that don't respect the rules applied to French farmers. It concerns South American meat and Spanish wine as well as palm oil,” said Damien Greffon, who leads the FRSEA farmers' union in the  Paris region.
They argue that the French government is asking its own farmers to meet standards that are not being imposed on imported products. 
Recently, the government authorized Total to operate a biorefinery at La Mède using palm oil imported from Asia.
The French oil group plans to use “300,000 tons” of oil per year.
However, a spokesperson for Total told AFP that 300,000 tons will cover less than 50 percent of the total supply of the refinery. 
This deal is nevertheless perceived by farmers unions as a competition to the French biodiesel industry, which mainly uses rapeseed oil produced in France.
Total's chief executive Patrick Pouyanne has pledged to buy 50,000 tons of French rapeseed, also known as canola oil, as part of the 650,000 tons of oil which will be used each year at the La Mede refinery outside the southern city of Marseille.
As a result, producers in the rapeseed sector feel threatened.
“The government is asking us to move upmarket and at the same time it allows large groups to import low-cost palm oil from deforestation,” Olivier Dauger who is in charge of renewable energy at the FNSEA told Le Figaro.
Samuel Vandaele, Secretary General of Jeunes Agricultures told AFP: “We are not against imports, we are not for protectionist measures, because we do not produce all the products, but we want the government to be coherent and that imports are all subject to equal standards, otherwise French agriculture will disappear.”
France's Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert called the blockades “illegal” and vowed not to go back on its agreement with Total to import palm oil. “
“It's not by blockading oil refineries that we will find an adequate solution,” Travert told French radio RTL.
Addressing the French farmers who produce rape seed oil Travert said: “Rapeseed producers don't have to be the poor parents of biofuel supply chains,” he said.
 “I hope that in the future Total will be able to source  rapeseed from producers in the best way,” he said.
In recent summers France has seen similar blockades of fuel depots and refineries that have lasted several days.
The blockades led motorists to panic buy petrol and led to fuel shortages around the country with petrol stations having to put up “empty” signs or limit motorists to a maximum amount of fuel.

Member comments

  1. The palm oil industry is destroying vast areas in Indonesia and habitats of orang utangs. Why did the French government allow the refinery to use palm oil? It should have been rejected on environmental grounds. I wonder if any informaation on this was given to the government before they made their decision or, as usual, just short-term economic value arguments were presented.

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French fuel prices soar almost to levels that sparked ‘yellow vest’ protest

Petrol and diesel prices have soared since the start of the year and are now almost back at the levels which sparked the beginning of the 'yellow vest' movement.

French fuel prices soar almost to levels that sparked 'yellow vest' protest
A surge in fuel prices sparked the 'yellow vest' movement. Photo; AFP

With the yellow vests still demonstrating every weekend, the government will be watching warily to see if the higher fuel prices give new momentum to the protestors.

Standard lead-free petrol – SP 95 as it is called in France – was being sold at an average price of €1.58 at service stations across the country in late April, with diesel going for €1.48.

Diesel has risen by 17 centimes since the start of the year, with petrol going up by 10 centimes, with rising oil prices being blamed for the hikes.

Which means that petrol has not been this expensive since April 2013.


Diesel is meanwhile nearing the historic high it reached in October 2018, when diesel prices overtook petrol prices in one-fifth of gas stations nationwide for the first time.

In a country where 80 percent of cars runs on diesel, that translated into a lot of unhappy drivers.

Motorists were further enraged when the government announced that it planned to slap an ecology tax on fuel intended to guide consumer behaviour towards cleaner options.

The yellow vest movement was born and its supporters have taken to the streets every weekend since last November, despite the government backing down on imposing the new tax.

It has since spread from a protest about fuel price rises to a broader movement about social inequality.

It has yet to be seen if the currently high fuel prices will galvanise it, and reverse the downward trend in the number of people turning out for its marches every weekend in cities across France.