Several Shell service stations across Perth this morning have confirmed they have run out of unleaded fuel.
Stations in Karawara, East Victoria Park, Canning Vale and Bull Creek all said their reserves had run dry in the past 24 hours and they had yet to be notified when more supplies would be provided.
Although the cause of the shortage is unclear, one of the station attendants suggested there had been problems with Shell's supply arrangements with WA's sole oil refinery in Kwinana.
But a spokesman for BP denied there were any problems with its Kwinana refinery, saying the British-owned company had delivered its contracted supplies to Shell.
Shell spokesman for the dual British and Dutch-owned company Paul Zennaro admitted there was a “short term local product shortage” involving unleaded fuel at its Perth service stations.
But he refused to concede that Shell had failed to plan for adequate levels of supplies, blaming stronger-than-expected demand and a shortage of reserves at the company’s Fremantle terminal.
He was also unable to explain how many of Shell’s Perth petrol stations had been hit by the shortage.
“I think fail is the wrong word,” he said. “Fuel is a product with very long lead times and at different times of the year supply and demand changes.
“What we try and do obviously is forecast that as accurately as we can and do our best to bring fuel to sites and to our customers.”
Mr Zennaro claimed the problem was expected to be “dramatically improved by later tonight” amid plans to source further supplies.
“It is short term,” he said. “We’re expecting things to be well on the way to being resolved later on today.”
Mr Zennaro also revealed that fuel shortages were affecting some of its east coast operations, saying Shell had been struggling to keep pace with demand for fuel in the lead up to Christmas.
“While it is occurring when you sort of look at it from the overall size of the network it is reasonably isolated,” he said.
WA’s fuel watchdog has downplayed the risk of retailers using the shortages to gouge customers, saying they were a “short term” problem unlikely to affect prices and any opportunism would be caught.
FuelWatch co-ordinator Ray Gibson said that while service station operators were “free to set their prices”, any moves that could be classed as gouging would be easy to identify and attract significant penalties.
He said that while prices at many metropolitan petrol stations had risen in the past 24 hours, this was consistent with the “normal pricing cycle” and “almost totally unrelated” to the supply shortages affecting Shell.
Asked whether the difficulties affecting Shell could noticeably bump up petrol prices tomorrow, Mr Gibson said: “That’s very unlikely”.
“The supplies as we understand are returning to normal so it’s very, very unlikely that these short term glitches will affect prices.
“What tends to drive prices is international prices more than anything.”
Mr Gibson said there was no evidence to suggest that some stations had taken advantage of the fuel shortages to jack up their prices today, saying the watchdog had not been asked to investigate any illegal activity arising from them.
He suggested Shell’s woes may have been exacerbated by a technical problem with a pipeline from the Kwinana oil refinery that supplied the group’s Fremantle terminal, which he said was fixed last night.
Mr Gibson said the difficulty had caused “constraints” on Perth’s “tight” fuel network and supplies would take a number of days to be fully restored.