Questions and answers: Fuel shortages in Bonn and the region

Questions and answers : Fuel shortages in Bonn and the region

The year 2018 is approaching a new drought record in Germany. Because shipping channels are affected, there may be shortages at petrol stations. There are no signs of an improvement in the situation. Here are some questions and answers on the subject.

For some motorists, this is a completely new experience. They arrive at their normally frequented petrol station only to find it is out of fuel. At fault is the Rhine River - or to be more precise, the low water level of the Rhine.

What does the water in the Rhine have to do with the fuel supply at the petrol stations?

A considerable part of the fuel transport takes place on the Rhine. Due to the persistently low water level this year, tankers are currently only able to carry about one third of the normal amount of petrol or diesel. According to Shell, a fully loaded tanker barge can transport about as much as 80 tanker trucks.

What is the current water level of the Rhine?

It hasn't been this low for years. After the level last Wednesday in Bonn had risen to 123 centimeters, it was again at 95 centimeters on Monday midday, with a further downward trend. In Cologne it fell from 117 to 82 centimeters, in Düsseldorf from 70 to 40 centimeters. In the navigation channels, the water depth was 204 centimeters in Bonn and 193 centimeters in Cologne.

What has to happen for the Rhine to rise to a normal level?

"It would have to rain really hard in southern Germany for two weeks," says Matthias Habel, spokesman for Wetteronline in Bonn. However, the rain must not be so heavy that floods occur. The dry soil cannot absorb much water at present. In the summer months, the Rhine is mainly fed by glacier melt water from Switzerland. But that stops in September. Then the Rhine is dependent on rainwater to maintain its level.

How will the weather develop?

There is hardly any rain in sight for the next few days, says the Wetteronline spokesperson. In the next five days, perhaps ten liters per square meter are foreseeable in some regions of southern Germany. "This is of no use to the Rhine at all."

So the gas stations are running out of gas?

"This risk does not exist because the sector can switch to other transport routes such as rail or tank trucks," explains Alexander von Gersdorff, spokesman for the Petroleum Industry Association in Berlin. "I don't see any permanent threat to supply, but the situation is not about to ease up either." A basic problem, however, is that there is not enough replacement capacity. This could lead to temporary shortages here and there. The association has therefore advocated a temporary lifting of the driving ban for trucks on Sundays and public holidays.

Are other petroleum products also affected?

Delivery problems caused by the low water level can also occur with heating oil or kerosene for aircraft. Products for the chemical industry are also affected.

How do petrol stations respond?

"If they run out of fuel at the gas station next to me, I know they're all coming to me," says Stephan Zieger, Managing Director of the Bundesverband Freier Tankstellen (Federal Association of Independent Petrol Stations) headquartered in Bonn. All petrol stations are currently trying to obtain as much fuel as possible through well thought-out logistics. He knows of a petrol station in the region that can get its fuel from Liège by tanker truck. Frankfurt petrol stations, in contrast would be supplied from Bremen. During the longer trips, of course, drivers must make sure that their driving times are not exceeded.

The Dutch used to travel to Germany to buy cheap fuel, but now it's the other way round. Why are our neighbours like Holland, Belgium or Luxembourg not affected by the supply problem?

Because they have other supply systems, says von Gersdorff. There, fuel supplies are transported via pipelines, tanker trucks or trains. The fact that the Rhine plays such a decisive role as a transport route in North Rhine-Westphalia or Rhineland-Palatinate is something out of the ordinary.

Has it ever happened before that petrol stations could not be supplied?

According to von Gersdorff, it's not unusual: "There are always interruptions." Snow and ice are often the cause of delivery problems. In 2011, it was a self-inflicted problem for the energy companies that led to occasional shortages of super gasoline: With the introduction of E10 fuel, petrol stations had filled their large storage tanks with the new biofuel instead of standard Super, but consumers did not want it.

Are the price increases justified?

The ADAC says: No. Crude oil has become around 20 percent cheaper than at the beginning of October, but gasoline is more expensive than it has been for years. "The suspicion is that the oil companies are emphasizing supply difficulties in order to increase their profit margins," the spokesman said.

(Orig. text: Claudia Mahnke, Lutz Warkalla / Translation: ck)