The brown splatters are still on the tank hoses. The asphalt is still slippery and the smell of fuel still stings your nose. But petrol or diesel is not available at this gas station of supermarket chain Auchan in Compiègne in northern France on Tuesday morning. The parking spaces next to the hoses are marked with white signs. “Out of fuel,” it says in graceful letters. Every now and then a motorist passes by, who drives on after looking at the signs. Vouchers blowing around the otherwise deserted gas station reveal that motorists were luckier earlier in the day. At 00:03, someone filled up 70.7 liters of diesel for 128.66 euros. At 6:33 a.m. someone filled his or her tank with nearly twenty liters of gasoline. And at 06:40 a motorist managed to get more than 35 liters of petrol out of the hoses. But three receipts from after 06:45 show that an attempt was made to refuel, but the payment was aborted. Then everything was gone. Other gas stations in Compiègne – a sleepy town about 90 kilometers north of Paris and best known for the armistice signed by France and Germany in 1918 at the end of the First World War – are deserted and empty this sunny Tuesday; the result of strikes at TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil oil refineries that have lasted for two weeks. More than 30 percent of French gas stations are now out of at least one fuel, in the worst affected region of Hauts-de France, where Compiègne is located, even about half. Also read: Macron and Merkel seal Franco-German reconciliation in Compiègne Big influence One petrol station in Compiègne, of TotalEnergies, still has a little bit of diesel just before noon, as the price sign on the side of the road shows. A line of about ten cars has lined up in front of the gas station, motorists hanging out their windows trying to figure out if it’s really their turn. But then suddenly the price of diesel disappears from the price board, and a short, stocky woman with a body warmer from Total comes out with orange pawns to drop off the gas station. “I still had some diesel for priorities (people who work in education or care get priority at many stations, ed.), but everything is really gone now. We may have again tomorrow.” The street fills with sighs, merdes and putains as the cars speed away. “This is not normal,” says forklift driver Mamadou Doubia (37) who is at the front of the line at the gas station with his Peugeot 307 and therefore just misunderstands. “I’ve been looking for fuel since 9 a.m. this morning, I’ve tried four stations.” He has to be at work in an hour, about twenty miles away. “My tank is almost empty, so I’m not going to make it.” The 43-year-old housewife Caroline Geaul, who misses her Volkswagen Caddy at an Esso gas station a few kilometers away, also says that the strikes and the associated fuel shortages have “major impact” on her life. “I have to pick up my kids from school and I’m running out of fuel. Today I just manage, but I don’t know how to do the next few days.” Also read: Paris wants to become the world capital of the bicycle The strikes show once again how much French people from all walks of life still rely on petrol and diesel – especially outside the big cities. At service stations in Compiègne, shiny Mercedes cars pass by from businessmen from Paris, who are in Hauts-de-France for appointments with other business people, as well as battered city cars of home care workers who go to clients with their cars and families who want to buy a voiture shopping at the hypermarché. It is because car use in France is still completely normal even for short distances, but also because many people in Compiègne simply have no choice. For example, Doubia’s work is half an hour away, but two hours by public transport – he would have to travel via Paris. And in the village where Geaul’s children go to school, there are no buses. “Maybe I could go by bike,” she says hesitantly. “But my son is only two years old and with the heavy traffic I don’t dare to do that.” Bad timing The strikes come at a bad time, both Doubia and Geaul say. “I should probably take a day off, but I really can’t afford it. Life has already become so expensive,” says Doubia, referring to the increased prices. Geaul says her only other option is to take a taxi, “but that costs about 80 euros and that is far too expensive, especially in these times.” She is disappointed that the strikers of TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil are making it difficult for her. “I understand why they are on strike, but it makes no sense to paralyze the whole country.” The striking employees of the oil companies have also stopped working because of the high prices. Union CGT, which is demanding a 10 percent wage increase over 2022, points to the increased cost of living in France (nearly 6 percent year on year). A contributing factor is that the oil companies are now making record profits due to the energy crisis, which refinery employees would not get enough of. “TotalEnergies management was extremely easy to release an envelope with 2.62 billion euros for shareholders,” CGT wrote in an open letter last weekend, referring to the dividend the company recently paid. It is not yet possible to say how long the strikes will last, and refueling will continue for hours. There seems to be some progress in the matter. On Monday, Esso-Exxonmobil reached an agreement in principle with some of the staff – but not yet with the strikers from the refineries. Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne on Tuesday ordered local authorities to force striking refinery workers from that company to return to work – which is possible under French law if strikes threaten the work of emergency services, for example. And TotalEnergies has announced that it wants to talk to the unions earlier than agreed – but only when the employees go back to work. In any case, it will be too late for Doubia. “I’m going to call my boss now and take a vacation day.” A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 12, 2022