Petrol station, Sydney
UK might face diesel supply problems Reuters

Britain's diesel pumps could run dry due to the country's dependence on foreign fuel, RAC Foundation warned, saying that motorists could be left "at the mercy of the global markets" in the future. The motoring research group says diesel demand has risen from 11 million diesel cars in 2014 from just 1.6 million in 1994. At this rate of growth, diesel will be four times more popular than petrol by 2030, it said, noting that UK refineries are struggling to cope with the increase in demand.

Steve Gooding, the foundation's director said that the UK consumes twice as much diesel as it produces, forcing Britain to rely on countries such as Russia and India. "Even if we are not in conflict with those countries that control the taps, they might simply decide they need more of what they produce for their own markets," he told the BBC.

"If supply is interrupted, then at best we'll see sharp rises in forecourt prices and, at worst, there is the unlikely but real possibility of pumps running dry." He said that any shortages could hit the most populated areas the most. The UK keeps fuel reserves in case of emergencies, but they are not uniformly spread and the South East of England is particularly vulnerable to shocks to the supply chain," he added.

The RAC Foundation reports said that there were nine big refineries in the UK in 2009 but since then, three have ceased operations and several others are up for sale. Older refineries were never set up to make diesel as it was a niche product when the refineries were built in the sixties.

Gooding said it is too expensive to convert these older refineries to handle diesel. "Retrofitting them is a billion pound decision that has failed to stack up for investors who see refining as a low margin business, despite our sky high pump-prices."

The BBC said half of all new cars built today are diesel-fueled, after the Labour government in 2001 changed the tax regime to encourage people to buy diesel rather than petrol cars. However, focus on pollution has now changed from the carbon dioxide from petrol cars to nitrogen dioxide emitted by diesel cars. The UK could possible face massive daily fines for missing EU levels on nitrogen dioxide, BBC said.

Further, nitrogen dioxide could be responsible for tens of thousands of UK deaths each year, the BBC notes. It said an idea being brandied around is to restrict diesel vehicles to six city centres - London, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton.