New Delhi: Officials at state-run oil firms began a strike on Wednesday demanding higher wages, hitting operations at four refineries and cutting gas supplies, although they said fuel stocks were adequate for now.
State firms dominate nation’s energy sector, controlling almost the entire supply of transport fuels, natural gas and domestic crude oil in Asia’s third-largest oil consumer.
Unions regularly call stoppages but most end before they hit energy supplies. This time, however, industry sources say the white-collar strikers have the tacit support of top managers, who would also gain if the government raises salaries.
The strike began at 6am, said Oil Sector Officers Association President Amit Kumar, adding 55,000 employees were involved.
They included officials at refiner Indian Oil Corp, explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp and its refining subsidiary Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd.
An IOC source said the firm’s 260,000 barrel per day (bpd) Koyali refinery, the 240,000 bpd Panipat unit, its 160,000 bpd Mathura refinery and the company’s 120,000 bpd Haldia plant had been affected.
A spokesman for IOC declined to comment but an oil ministry official, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that the four refineries were affected.
The oil ministry official said state firms had enough stocks to meet demand for 15-20 days, and that supplies of jet fuel, petrol and diesel were normal.
If the strike were to run for several days longer, it would threaten to curtail demand for imported crude and eventually force refiners to cancel fuel exports.
Natural gas transmission firm GAIL India Ltd said it had stopped the sale of 47 million cubic metres of gas a day as the strike had lowered supplies, a company spokesman said.
Supplies had stopped at Hazira in western India, he said, from where a 2,800-km (1,750 miles) pipeline carries natural gas to northern India.
“There is no gas at Hazira,” the spokesman said.
Earlier, Kumar said Oil and Natural Gas Corp’s gas processing plant at Hazira was being shut down.
On Tuesday, petroleum secretary RS Pandey had said crude oil output of Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) and Oil India Ltd would not be hit but operations at three refineries might be partly affected by the agitation.
Private refiners Reliance Industries and Essar Oil are expected to continue normal operations and officials say the government may turn to them for supplies if needed.
The impact of any supply disruption would be partly offset by weaker demand for diesel as tens of thousands of truckers have been on a nationwide strike since Monday.