United Kingdom's legislation on oil security

This report is part of Oil Security Toolkit


The United Kingdom (UK)’s response to oil supply shortages in emergency situations is primarily governed by the European Union (EU)’s Oil Stocking Directive (Directive 2009/119/EC) as implemented by the 1976 Energy Act (EA) and legally binding directions given to undertakings under the EA. The 2012 Oil Stocking Order (OSO) enacted by the UK Secretary of State pursuant to sections 6(6)(a), 17(2) and (3) EA and section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, contains more detailed, mostly procedural, provisions concerning UK stockholding obligations and emergency measures.

Circumstances triggering the operation of the national emergency response system

According to section 3(1)(b) EA the powers of the EA may be made available to their fullest extent when there exists or is imminent in the UK an actual or threatened emergency affecting fuel or electricity supplies which necessitate that the UK government should have at its disposal exceptional powers for controlling the sources and availability of energy. Before the powers can be used, an Order in Council (a further piece of legislation) must be made.

Alternatively, the EA’s provisions may also be utilised if the implementation of UK obligations within the legal framework of the European Union or the International Energy Programme (IEP) of the International Energy Agency (IEA) so require (section 3(1)(a) EA). Using the powers for these purposes would also require an Order in Council.

Authority determining whether emergency exists

The method by which these powers are made available is through an Order in Council, which is made by Her Majesty The Queen acting on the advice of the Privy Council. Orders in Council are initiated by the UK Government in a similar way to secondary legislation. In the case of an actual or threatened fuel emergency, an Order in Council authorising the use of EA powers will expire after 28 days unless approved by Parliament (section 3(2) EA).

Legal stockholding obligations


Section 6 EA empowers the Secretary of State to direct persons supplying, producing or using crude liquid petroleum or petroleum products to make such arrangements with respect to such a person’s UK oil stocks that enable those stocks to be brought within a specified time to, and to be maintained at a specified level (section 6(2)(a) EA). Substantial suppliers to the UK market, which are defined as persons who supplied crude liquid petroleum or petrol products exceeding 50,000 tonnes to the UK in the course of carrying on an undertaking during a relevant period (Article 16(1)(a)-(b) OSO), may also be directed to create emergency stocks (section 6(2)(b) EA).

Storage Agency

The United Kingdom does not have a Central Stockholding Entity. Instead the UK fulfils its stockholding obligations by imposing stockholding obligations on commercial entities. 

Storage Quantity

Under EU legislation, the UK is required to hold 67.5 days’ domestic net consumption (61 days plus 10 per cent). The UK government directs substantial suppliers to hold stocks to meet its international stocking obligation. A minimum of 22 days’ of stocks must be held as finished products.

Availability of stocks

Emergency stocks must be held in such a manner that they are available to and physically accessible by the person stocking them at all times (Article 3(1)(d) OSO).

Storage Locations

With respect to the mode of storing oil stocks, Article 5(1) OSO incorporates provisions of Annex III to the 2009 Directive 119/EC by providing that stocks must be held in specified locations including inter alia refinery tanks, bulk terminals or inland ship bunkers (cf. Articles 5(1)(a) to (i) OSO).

Sale of excess stocks


Mechanisms to address emergency


In times of emergency the Secretary of State would lower the obligation on undertakings, set out in legally binding directions, thus enabling the surplus stocks to be released to the market to ease the shortage of supply.  



Physical surplus stocks resulting from the lowering of obligations will be made available to market by the obligated company. Tickets purchased on stocks can either be cancelled by an obligated company, meaning the volume is released to market, or the obligated company may elect to receive the ticketed volume as a delivery, to be made available to market by them.

Production Surge

In principle the EA allows for this possibility.

Demand restraint

Section 1 EA grants the Secretary of State the power to regulate the use of fuel stocks by order. Specifically, the EA also authorises the Secretary of State to prohibit or restrict the supply of oil stocks to specified persons or to require the supply of oil stocks to specified persons (sections 2(2)(b)(i)-(ii) EA). Section 1 EA grants the Secretary of State the power to regulate the use of fuel stocks by order. Specifically, the EA also authorises the Secretary of State to prohibit or restrict the supply of oil stocks to specified persons or to require the supply of oil stocks to specified persons (sections 2(2)(b)(i)-(ii) EA). The National Emergency Plan – for Fuel (NEP-F), updated in 2017, contains further contingency plans that could be implemented at times of emergency The NEP-F is not publicly available, but has been shared with all Priority Users, relevant Trade Associations, and UK Government departments.

Fuel Switching


Relaxations of Road Traffic and Transport Laws

EA provisions on relaxation of road traffic and transport laws are set out in section 4(2) and Schedule 1 EA. 

Monitoring and enforcement of emergency regime

The UK’s emergency regime is monitored and enforced on the domestic, regional and international level. Each will be considered in turn.


Reporting duties

Persons carrying on an undertaking relating to crude oil or oil products may be ordered to keep books and accounts or to furnish information concerning such stocks (section 18 and paragraph 1, Schedule 2 EA). The EA further bestows upon the Secretary of State (or a person authorised by the Secretary of State) the power to require persons to deliver documents and to share such information as is required in order to ensure compliance with any provision made under the EA (section 18 and paragraph 2, Schedule 2 EA). For the same purpose similar powers exist concerning access to premises in order to make such inspections and enquiries as are necessary (section 18 and paragraph 3, Schedule 2 EA).


Section 18 EA stipulates various criminal offences associated with contraventions of the provisions of the EA. Section 19 specifies the penalties associated with such offences which range up to an unlimited  fine,  imprisonment for a term of up to two years, or both. Moreover, the OSO provides that persons who hinder the transfer or release of emergency or specific stocks in times of emergency without reasonable excuse commit an offence (Article 17 OSO). The maximum penalty for such an offence is an unlimited fine. The UK’s 2015 Audit and Enforcement Policy for Compulsory Oil Stocking Obligations contains further details concerning the monitoring and enforcement of persons obliged to hold emergency stocks.


European Union

As a Member State of the European Union1, Council Directive 2009/119/EC obliges the UK to maintain a minimum volume of emergency oil stocks corresponding to 90 days of average daily net imports or 61 days of average daily inland consumption, whichever of the two quantities is greater. The Directive also imposes strict requirements concerning the composition and location of the emergency oil stocks, so as to guarantee their availability and accessibility in case of need, among other provisions.

The UK’s compliance with the provisions of the directive is monitored and enforced by the European Commission. If a Member State is deemed not to be compliant with the EU Directive, the Commission might decide to initiate an infringement procedure, which might ultimately lead to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (articles 258-259, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).


The IEA 

As a Member of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the UK is obliged, pursuant to article 2 IEP, to maintain oil reserves equal to 90 days of net imports of the previous year. IEA Members are obliged to submit information concerning their emergency measures to the IEA secretariat (article 32 IEP) on a continuous basis and the IEA monitors Member countries’ compliance with the IEP.

  1. For the time being, the UK remains a full member of the EU and rights and obligations continue to fully apply in and to the UK. https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/countries_en.