Oil companies, the police and the Government are pre-paring for a co-ordinated national fuel protest this morning by hauliers and farmers angry over the rising price of petrol.
Transaction 2007, a group representing UK hauliers and farmers, has targeted several refineries across the country, including Shell's Stanlow refinery in Cheshire and Exxon-Mobil's Fawley site in Southampton, with what it says will be peaceful demonstrations.
David Handley, the chairman of Farmers for Action and an organiser of the protest, said today's events would not be a rerun of the fuel blockades of 2000, when lorries blocked tanker trucks in refineries. The demonstrations brought many sectors of the country grinding to a halt, with forecourt pumps dry and supermarket shelves bereft of products.
Today's protests, Mr Handley said, will be a warning shot. "We want to sit down in dialogue with the Government to address the situation that at the moment is disadvantaging everyone," he said. "This will be totally peaceful and in co-operation with the police. But we want to send a message that unless they address the issues of high prices and taxation, then we will be forced into more serious action like [fuel blockades]." He said he expected "substantial numbers" of protesters to take part, though it was unclear how well attended the pro-tests would be.
The moves come a day after the International Energy Agency stoked fresh fears of further increases in the oil price. The energy group predicted that next year global demand will rise by 2.3 per cent to 87.8 million barrels a day, which analysts said would probably help push the oil price through $100 per barrel. This month, Opec, the cartel of oil producing nations responsible for producing 40 per cent of the world's oil, decided to keep production flat despite demands from Western governments for more.
Environmental groups united in protest yesterday against Transaction 2007's campaign, saying the cost of motoring has fallen by 10 per cent in real terms in the past decade and that the Government must hold firm against the protesters. Tony Bosworth, of Friends of the Earth, said: "If the Government is serious about tackling climate change, it must not cave in to pressure to make road travel even cheaper."
Grant Thornton, the consultancy, said the Government is in line for a 300m windfall due to the near-record oil price and high taxes about 45 per cent of the petrol price is tax. It said that the Government could use the cash to lower the fuel duty by 7p per litre.