In Europe, soaring petrol prices become the new normal

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By Charlene Rodrigues
A gas price is displayed at a gas station in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, March 9, 2022.
A gas price is displayed at a gas station in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, March 9, 2022.   -   Copyright  Michael Probst/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Bashir Akram’s taxi business in the West Midlands is already feeling the crunch of soaring fuel prices. Less than a week after Russia invaded Ukraine, Akram said the price increased to £1.50 per litre, at times forcing him to panic buy.

“I’m making some money but I’m also spending more and that leaves me with nothing,” he said while driving to Birmingham New Street in the West Midlands.

Russia’s unprovoked Ukraine invasion since 24 February has seen global oil prices soar amid concerns over the reliability of supplies. The price per barrel of Brent crude - the most common way of measuring the UK's oil price - reached $139 dollars on Monday, its highest in 14 years.

Elsewhere in Europe, the problems are the same. Luigi Barone, of the Italian Federation of Organisations for Consortia and Industrialisation (FICEI), said road hauliers are on a war footing.

“Numerous energy-intensive companies have slowed down their production due to the disproportionate increase in energy costs," Barone said.

“It is clear that the higher costs, unfortunately, will filter to the consumer who will find it a double drain: the doubling of bills will increase the cost of numerous foodstuffs on the shelves,”

Russia is the world's largest oil exporter, sending more than seven million barrels of crude oil to countries around the world, including to Germany and other EU.

Its most important oil export partners are China, the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, and Poland, while the UK and US reliance on Russian oil was less pronounced even before the invasion.

The question now is to what extent the economic sanctions will stand in the way of Putin’s ambitions while also sowing mayhem across energy markets.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday vowed to ban Russian oil imports “to inflict pain on Vladimir Putin” while the UK said it will phase out Russian imports of oil products by the end of 2022. The EU plans to cut Russian gas by two-thirds over the next few months.

It is the biggest challenge for the EU, where 45 percent of the gas came from Russia in 2021. Russia was also Europe's largest supplier of oil at 27 percent, three times more than Norway.

On Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made clear that his country, Europe's third-largest consumer of Russian energy, has no plans to join in any ban.

In Italy, Barone expressed surprise that the European nations had not seen this coming given that this is not the first time there has been a war in Ukraine. He feels that after the 2014 war in the east of the country, Italy should have immediately started planning for a future without cheap Russian gas.

This time, he hopes the conflict prompts the government to get serious about its energy future.

"It is essential that Italy organises itself with a serious national energy plan," he said.

In the UK, the issue may be less acute due to a government cap on energy prices, but the rising price of petrol and diesel may have the effect of pushing consumers towards more sustainable options, like electric cars.

“This will further widen the gap in running costs between the use of electric vehicles and petrol cars, with electric vehicles already proving 66 percent cheaper to run," said Steve Endacott, chairman of the Electric Car Organisation (ECO).

If the war becomes a protracted one, Robin Mills, CEO of UAE-based Qamar Energy said, oil prices rises will continue to escalate $130/bbl upwards.

“While the sanctions haven’t hit oil and gas flows yet, there is strong pressure to do so, for oil at least,” Mills said.

Mills added that companies are already avoiding purchases over reputational concerns and the difficulty of financial transactions.

Back in Birmingham, taxi driver, Akram is adapting and making minor changes by switching to electric cooking and trying to be sparing with heating.