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Exxon's Esso Raises Gasoline Prices After Protests (Update1) By Christopher Evans
London, Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Exxon Mobil Corp.'s U.K. service-station network, Esso, said it increased gasoline prices even as protests are continuing concerning the high cost of fuel, which have led to widespread shortages of gasoline.
Unleaded gasoline will rise by 2 pence a liter and diesel by 4 pence a liter. A company spokeswoman said Esso is increasing prices to bring them in line with competitors.
The price rise comes as nationwide protests -- that began to disperse early today -- have prevented deliveries of gasoline to filling stations. The action caused many to run dry, severely disrupting travel, industry and essential services and leading to food shortages in some places.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, at a press conference on the fuel crisis, said he didn't understand Esso's action. ``The world oil price has come down in the past few days. I will be seeing the oil companies this afternoon. That will be an opportunity to discuss that issue as well,'' Blair said.
Total Fina Elf SA, in a move announced last Friday, also raised fuel prices by the same amount as Esso.
The Esso spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the gain will inflame the situation, or why the company is raising prices at a time when oil prices have retreated from a 10-year high.
Motoring organizations condemned the increase as failing to take into account public anger over fuel prices, and noted that not all oil companies had raised prices.
Esso's action is ``grossly insensitive,'' said Jonathan Simpson, a spokesman for the RAC Foundation, representing private motorists. ``At a time when Britain is at a standstill this will potentially intensify the protests.''
``This is not going to improve motorists' tempers,'' said Richard Freeman, policy spokesman for the Automobile Association, another motoring organization. ``I can't imagine that in public relations terms it is such a good idea.''
Asked whether the price rise amounted to profiteering, Freeman noted that not all companies had raised their prices. ``This is clearly a corporate decision,'' he said.
Protestors at oil refineries started to lift their blockades today, allowing fuel deliveries to resume.
Many of the U.K.'s fuel stations are out of supplies and the Petrol Retailers Association said it will take two and a half weeks for normal supplies to return once blockades of refineries have ended.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 14, 2000
Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 21:13 GMT 22:13 UK Oil giants scrap price rises
Esso tankers freed from blockades are carrying more expensive fuel
Three oil giants have scrapped increases in pump prices, following condemnation from the government and motorists. Esso, the UK's largest forecourt retailer, and TotalFinaElf have reversed rises of 2p a litre to the price of unleaded petrol, and 4p to diesel.
Conoco, which owns the Jet network of petrol stations, has called off increases it was set to implement on Friday.
But while Esso and Conoco expressed regret at the timing of the rises, introduced during widespread protests over fuel costs, TotalFinaElf said market forces prompted its decision to back down.
The firm said its "commitment to remain competitive in the market place" inspired it to reverse rises implemented last Friday.
Esso, which raised prices on Tuesday, said: "We recognise the timing is regrettable and in the spirit of the present efforts by everyone to restore supplies... are taking steps to reduce prices."
Conoco apologised to motorists, and admitted its decision "was insensitive in the current situation".
The firms earlier on Thursday blamed the rocketing cost of crude oil for the price rises,
Esso said it could not "ignore the impact of the increase in crude oil prices, which have squeezed already unsustainable margins even further".
TotalFinaElf said: "The reason for the increase is that the price of oil has gone up in the world markets."
But the decisions prompted dismay from Tony Blair who, ahead of a meeting with oil company bosses on Thursday afternoon, said he "really could not understand" the price rises.
"The world oil price as far as I am aware has actually gone down in the last few days," Mr Blair said.
"I am not saying there should be some Office of Fair Trading inquiry, but I will discuss with them what's happened in the dispute."
News of the rises also prompted protestors who had lifted a blockade at Coryton refinery in Essex to resume their action.
"There are about 60 of us here and it has come back to the mood it was this morning before it stopped," said Andy Cox, one of the protesters, who owns a tyre-fitting business.
"We are back on permanently. So far, we have turned four or five tankers around. All this because of the anger at the Esso announcement."
RAC Foundation director Edmund King said the pump price rises were insensitive.
"Esso seems to be igniting the fires again with another increase. You would have thought that a company of that size could have held these increases and paid for them out of their profits," he said.
The AA described the moves by the two oil firms as "not very good public relations".
Shell and BP both said throughout Thursday that they had no plans to raise prices.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), September 14, 2000.