Hungarian petrol stations close over price cap as foreign HGVs get the blame
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More Hungarian fuel stations had to close down due to fuel shortages on Wednesday, and hundreds of stations fear running dry over the weekend, according to multiple Hungarian media reports. Hungarian oil company MOL has blamed foreign hauliers, claiming they have caused the problem by “sucking out all the gasoline” from pumps because of the lower fuel prices in Hungary. Meanwhile, many fuel stations say the real problem stems from the government's fuel price cap, which makes selling petrol and diesel loss-making.
Readers may recall that the Hungarian government imposed a price cap on fuel sales in November 2021, which was intended to shield consumers from sharp price rises and keep a lid on surging inflation. The cap was set at 480 forints (1.30 euro) per litre at fuel stations and was extended from February until May. The price cap applies to both wholesalers and retailers.
Without the price cap, it’s estimated that at the time of writing, a litre of petrol would cost 594 forints (1.57 euros) and diesel would be 640 forints (1.70 euros). Another huge increase is expected for Friday, when the petrol price is predicted to be 640 forints (1.70 euros), while diesel would increase to 717 forints (1.90 euros) per litre, according to the fuel price comparison site holtankoljak.hu.
This significant difference in the price has made some wholesalers think twice about selling fuel to Hungarian stations. According to an article by Hungarian news portal Telex, ÖMV and Shell are two of the suppliers that will no longer import fuel simply because it is not worth it for them. As of 22 February, Shell had already limited the amount of fuel that can be purchased at motorway fuel stations to 100 litres.
As consequence of the above, some fuel stations relying on these suppliers had already run out of fuel on Wednesday, and many others are expecting dry pumps before the weekend. Indeed, it could get worse, as several hundreds of fuel stations are expected to run dry by the end of the weekend.
While the first reports about the closed stations concerned locations in and around Budapest, by the end of Wednesday, it became clear that the problem was more widespread; many fuel stations in the west of the country were also said to be closing down.
Stations near the Austrian and Slovak border complained about the issue earlier than others because foreigners living close to Hungary “commuted” to these fuel stations en-masse due to the significant price difference.
Foreign HGV drivers who transit through Hungary are also being encouraged by their operators to refuel in Hungary, said MOL CEO Zsolt Hernádi in a tv interview yesterday.
“There are no supply problems, there are temporary logistical problems, because when a larger fleet of trucks line up at a gas station, they suck it up in no time, refilling the pumps does require some time,” Hernádi explained.
MOL’s CEO also added the amount of incoming crude oil is unchanged and it is the same as it was set in their contract with their suppliers. Despite recent events, he openly declared that the company takes Russian oil that arrives in Hungary via Ukraine through the Friendship Oil Pipeline.
The Friendship Pipeline is not MOL’s only source of Russian oil either. The company’s Bratislava refinery can also be supplied with Russian oil entirely from the south through the Adriatic oil pipeline.
While the refinery in Bratislava relies entirely on Russian oil, 60% of oil processed in Hungarian refineries is also Russian.
“This is how our refineries were designed”, Hernádi added.
UPDATE: 11/03/2022, 14.30 CET
According to telex.hu, the Hungarian Government has announced the following:
- Lorries over 7.5 tonnes will only be able to refuel at designated petrol stations as 10pm tonight. This is to halt the mass-purchase of fuel by foreign hauliers.
- Excise tax on fuel per litre cut by HUF 20,
- Police given the means prosecute those who try to spread panic about fuel shortages,
- A for a 4-day long HGV ban will begin on March 15th.