File picture: Neil Baynes / Independent Media.

London - A fire at a Total SA oil refinery in eastern Germany last month is leaving some of the region’s gas stations short of gasoline and diesel as prolonged disruption at the plant is increasingly felt by consumers.

The incident at the Leuna plant near Leipzig is disrupting supplies of diesel and unleaded gasoline in Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, according to Deutsche Tamoil GmbH, which operates HEM-branded stations in the region.

Total said there could be individual delays in deliveries, but that the company’s own network was being supplied. A fuel barge broker said demand is rising to send replacement supplies via canal from Hamburg.

Read also: 'There is no fuel strike' 

The halt, and the ensuing disruption, show how difficult it can be for oil companies to replace supplies when refineries halt unexpectedly. Last year, a strike by workers in France caused plants across the country to stop, preventing refueling and temporarily boosting imports. As well as using barges to replenish stockpiles, refiners can also send trucks hundreds of miles farther to perform deliveries.

"Several HEM gas stations are affected,” Marion Menken, a spokeswoman for Deutsche Tamoil, said by email. The company is working to restore supplies but it’s "facing delays because of significantly longer routes and that’s why it’s possible that individual stations may not be able to offer certain fuels for a short period of time.”

The fire at the Leuna refinery, which services about 1,300 stations in the region, broke out on May 17 when the site was in maintenance. The refinery was opened in 1997. It handles about 12 million tons of crude annually, according to industry group MWV, which said disruption is limited to a few outlets in the Leipzig area.

On northern Germany’s canals, demand has increased for diesel barges as a result of the extended outage, Quirijn Bol, a director at Riverlake Barging, said by phone. Leuna, southwest of Berlin, isn’t normally served by canal but the refinery outage is affecting overall inland supplies, he said.

BP Plc’s Aral has only a “handful” of its 2,500 outlets in Germany affected, and only for 2-3 hours at a time, said Detlef Brandenburg, a company spokesman. “We see no widespread supply issues for Aral gas stations." Deutsche Tamoil said it expects to re-supply all affected gas stations "in the short term”.

Chemical producers in Leuna close to the refinery are looking for alternative supply of feedstock as a result of the extended outage, according to Martin Naundorf, head of public relations for InfraLeuna GmbH, which owns and operates the city’s chemical park that employs 9,000 workers and generates 12 million tons of products annually.

Repairing the Leuna refinery will take the remainder of the month, according to Total. The company has set up "alternative options" for gas stations in the region but can’t rule out local delays to deliveries, it said by email.

There’s no supply bottleneck in the region but “only a major logistical effort,” Burkhard Reuss, head of corporate communications at Total Deutschland GmbH, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.