Striking workers who have shuttered over half of France's oil refining capacity are threatening to expand their walkout to the rest of the country's refineries, raising the risk of gas shortages ahead of key regional elecions.
Workers at all six of Total SA's French refineries and at six of its 31 fuel depots have been on strike for five days over the uncertain future of a plant in Dunkirk, in northern France.
Their colleagues at ExxonMobil Corp.-owned Esso France's two refineries are set to begin their own walkout Tuesday.
Together, Total and Esso refineries account for about 70 percent of France's refining capacity.
Workers at France's fourth-largest refinery, British-owned chemicals company INEOS, were meeting Monday to vote on whether they too would join the widening strike, according to Charles de Launay, a representative of the CGT union.
Two more refineries, owned by Switzerland's Petroplus, are scheduled to take a strike vote on Wednesday.
CGT strike coordinator Charles Foulard has predicted that France will reach "borderline shortage" in the coming week.
The French oil refineries' body, UFIP, said this weekend that France has at least 10 days' worth of fuel stocks.
Total says it has fuel stocked away that it can draw on, though it has declined to say how many days that could last.
The strike was sparked by workers' concerns about the future of the Dunkirk refinery.
Total says it is preparing new uses for the Dunkirk site, and the company says its activities have been stopped since September because of a drop in consumption of petroleum products manufactured there.
Total's refineries are losing 100 million euros ($135 million) a month, spokesman Michael Crochet-Vourey said.
A spokeswoman for Esso France said that it put in place a system to maintain deliveries to and from its two refineries and 11 fuel depots in response to "very high" demand over the weekend.
"People are afraid of shortages," said Catherine Brun, the Esso France spokeswoman.
"We had very high demand this weekend from clients who feared shortages, so we doubled our sales this weekend," Brun said.
The government has reacted by summoning Total's top executives.
Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Total Chairman Thierry Desmarest for talks about the strike.
Sunday, Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie met with Industry Minister Christian Estrosi.
The CGT union, which represents a majority of workers in the conflict, insists that Total's Dunkirk refinery must continue to run as it has in the past.
CGT meetings to discuss the strike's future are planned at Total refineries Monday.
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