Travellers Feel Fuel Thirst


(An SA Blog Beta post from Your Correspondent.)

South Africa is running out of fuel!

Well, not exactly – but that’s certainly the feeling among some unhappy motorists and airline passengers in the last few weeks.

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Several airports – including Cape Town International – ran short of jet fuel over the weekend, inconveniencing thousands. Meanwhile, filling stations in the Western Cape and Gauteng are randomly running dry, sparking mad dashes to alternate pumps, along with fervent prayers for cars to make it “…just a few more kilometers, please, baby, please!” (You can see drivers’ lips move as they crane their necks for open forecourts.)

The jet fuel shortage stems from a relatively simple problem: Cape Town’s Chevron fuel refinery (known universally as the Caltex refinery) isn’t running at full capacity at the moment. When it does, jets will be able to fill up without interruption again. This is no solace to those who’ve been re-routed, or have had their luggage chucked off their flights so pilots can carry extra fuel instead. Fortunately, the chaos is due to end by mid-week.

For those who get around by car, the problem is more complex. South Africa introduces new fuel standards this January – all grades of petrol must be lead free – and the switch to different refining techniques, plus the need to continue supplying leaded petrol until January, has meant a slowdown in overall production. Add the Chevron refinery’s limited capacity to this mix – and you have the perfect recipe for a region-wide fuel shortage.

Motorists in SA’s major centers can expect to play the “find the fuel” game for the next few weeks. (I see a reality TV show in the offing.) Countries which depend on SA for fuel – Namibia, Botswana, and Mocambique, primarily – will likely suffer knock-on shortages through February. So don’t let that tank get too low before your next fill-up!