The day we nearly ran out of gas

Gas burner

It has emerged that in March this year we were closer to running out of gas than anyone suspected. One official has confirmed that at one stage we had just six hours of supply left.

So how did it happen, and could it happen again?

Running out

Reports at the time estimated that we could have as little as 36-hours-worth of gas left in the reserves. However, Rob Hastings, energy and infrastructure director at the Crown Estate, has confirmed in an interview that in fact there were only six-hours-worth of supplies left.

He told the Financial Times that if the levels had fallen any further it would have caused interruptions in the supply.


The crisis was largely a result of unexpectedly cold weather. It means that far more people put the heating on than the experts had predicted, so stocks were eroded very quickly.

At the same time, Sky reported that there were problems with a processing plant in Norway which provides gas via a pipeline to the UK. Meanwhile, the pipeline under the sea between the UK and Belgium shut down unexpectedly. It meant we had to rely on stored gas - and that started to run out.

Could it happen again?

The risks remain. The problem is two-fold. First, we only produce about 45% of all the gas we need, so we rely on imports. This relies on the technology of supply working, and is also dependent on a lack of political interference. Previous issues regarding the Russian pipeline raised awareness of just how much we depend on a peaceful political balance for energy.

Second, we just don't have much storage capacity in the UK. According to the Daily Mail we can store enough for 20 days. This compares to Italy which can store enough for 70 days, France which can store enough for 103 days, and the US, where stores could last six months.

This isn't as bad as it sounds. We will only call on those stores if all other supplies dry up. We import gas from a variety of different places, so we would be very unlucky to lose it all at the same time. In addition, we still have domestically-produced gas, so stocks will last far longer than 20 days even in the worst case scenario.

However, this lack of storage does leave us very much more vulnerable than other countries to interruptions of supply from overseas.

We came very close to interruptions in the gas supply in March. How long before we have to get used to the very real threat of running out of gas?

10 consumer rights you should know
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The day we nearly ran out of gas

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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