BONN Due to the low level of the Rhine, ships can only be loaded with a fraction of what they usually carry. Heating oil distributors now have difficulties getting supply to Bonn and the region.
The stocks are used up, the last of the heating oil delivered to the customers. New supply? Nope. „We are literally ‚stranded‘“, says Stephanie Surewaard, managing director at Heizöl Weber. The company in Alfter has had to put off their customers for the time being. There was currently no oil available from Shell Oil Germany in Godorf and Wesseling, said Surewaard.
Other suppliers report a similarly tense supply situation. Due to the extremely low level of the Rhine water, the ships can only be loaded with a fraction of their usual load. This not only affects the suppliers but also the filling stations. And the higher logistical expense causes the oil price to rise too.
The Shell refinery in Godorf and Wesseling plays a vital role in the supply chain. The crude oil arrives by pipeline. Thus the production continues unhindered, said spokesperson Jan Zeese. At the same time Shell relies on shipping, particularly in the distribution of the products. 34 percent of them get delivered by ship.
While a freight ship can normally carry up to four million litres of oil, it’s currently only about 20 percent - so 800,000 litres. The loading at the harbour in Godorf may be limited, but it is still working, said Zeese. Currently Shell is looking into other transport means. Generally speaking, Shell is delivering to all suppliers who have fixed general agreements with the company. Only in the so-called spot market - in which suppliers order oil products on short notice - are there delivery limitations.
Longer distance to refill
The Weber company now has to find alternatives. They are looking towards the Benelux states to refill their heating oil supplies. „This means an considerable effort in regard to time and administrative costs“, reports Surewaard. The company first of all has to apply for an international goods delivery permit.
How high the additional efforts and costs will be, cannot be estimated yet, the managing director said.
It happens now that the suppliers have to accept longer distances to get oil, said the Cologne supplier Jürgen Kops. „It is definitely more difficult at the moment, but we don’t have delivery problems yet.“
For Witter Öl, the Sieg-Bröl heating oil supplier, the supply situation is rather unusual though: „We never had anything like that in this region“, says Erna Witter. Her company is still able to deliver oil to the customers. But they are only getting smaller amounts to be able to provide oil to more customers at the time. „1000 litres are enough to get through the next while“, says Erna Witter. „The customers are all very understanding. We try to manage the situation together with them.“
The Bonn company Knauber describes a similar situation: „We advise our customers to remain calm, not to purchase as a precaution and to only cover the current need“, said spokesperson Maike Hagedorn. Their customers were „well supplied“ at the moment.
Price for heating oil increases
The more complicated and expensive logistics cause the heating oil price to increase, said Aribert Peters of the Energy Consumers Union. „Since the summer the price is already increasing strongly“, he explained. The price is currently at 87.5 cent per litre (if purchasing 3.000 litres), according to the consumers’ portal Tecson - in June and July it was less than 70 cent. 2017 the price fluctuated between 50 and 63 cent, in 2016 it was even lower.
„Oil was relatively cheap for a long time, which didn’t reflect the scarcity of the resource in any way“, explained Peters. Consumers have to adjust to higher prices in the long run and prepare for them, by undertaking energy saving measures in their homes and in their mobility habits.
Filling stations expect shortages
The difficult supply situation affects the filling stations as well. Stephan Zieger, managing director at the federal association of free filling station with headquarters in Bonn, confirmed that some filling stations have no fuel for some hours, due to the tense logistical chain. „The tank wagons have to drive further now“, said Ziegert. It may not be a dramatic situation, but the market seems to be in disorder.
Even despite the Federation opening the oil reserves for the mineral oil businesses in some parts of Germany, there is no solution in sight: „The tense situation continues“, said Alexander von Gersdorff, spokesperson of the mineral oil union.
The fact that reserves are accessible only reduces the problem. Generally speaking it is a tour de force that the logistical chains continue despite the low water levels.
But only continuous rain, leading to a higher level of the Rhine, can solve this problem in the long run.
(Original text: Claudia Mahnke, Dominik Pieper; Translation: Mareike Graepel)