Energy SECURITY 12 February, 2024 8:00 am   
COMMENTS: Joanna Słowińska

Karwowski: How Poland protects fuel deliveries

Gas Station Fuel Diesel Fuel Gas Pump Energy Pump Gas Station Fuel Diesel Fuel Gas Pump Energy Pump

“Intentional or accidental damage to fuel infrastructure presents significant challenges to the state’s operations. Russia demonstrated during the conflict in Ukraine that causing such disruptions is one of its objectives. How can we safeguard against this? Strategies for protection are outlined in the National Emergency Management Plan,” writes Marcin Karwowski, editor at

  • Risks to fuel security are defined in the National Emergency Management Plan.
  • These include failures, terrorist acts, as well as an unstable international political situation.
  • The disruptions in fuel deliveries will impact both citizens and the state.
  • One of the bodies responsible for monitoring threats to fuel systems is the Governmental Strategic Reserves Agency.

Heating, public transport, and electricity all work thanks to fuel infrastructure. Thus, its efficient operation is critical for the functioning of Poland and fundamental for most of us. As discussed by a blackout or damage to gas infrastructure as well as interruptions to the fuel system have been taken into account in the National Crisis Management Plan (KPZK). The authors described such an event as possible and with medium consequences for national security. Thus, the risk from such events is assessed as average.

What about fuel safety?

Just like any other aspect important for the functioning of the state, fuel security has received a definition. In this case the definition was provided in the Act of 16 February 2007 on Oil, Oil Products and Natural Gas Reserves and the Procedures in Case of a Threat to the National Security of Supply and Disturbances in the Oil Market

“Fuel security of the state is a situation where it is possible to cover the demand for oil, oil products and natural gas in specified volumes and time at a degree that enables the economy to function properly.”

What can lead to disruption of Poland’s fuel security? In particular, breakdowns of oil pipelines, which also include infrastructure that accompanies, for example, pumping stations. Disruption at oil and fuel terminals, such as the one at the Port of Gdańsk. Damage to the logistics system, which equals product pipelines and fuel depots, e.g. PERN’s, located across Poland.

Another type of disruptions taken into account are those in distribution systems across the country or in individual regions due to issues with import. Russia used these to make threats in 2022, but it fell through. The creators of KPZK also took into account the potentially negative impact of events in the international environment, especially in fuel-exporting or transit countries. And this occurs continuously. We are talking about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian fuels. However, Poland has overcome this challenge by stabilizing the fuel market with supplies from other sources.

Fuel security can also be compromised by disruptions in IT systems. In the age of digitalization, this is not only a very real threat, but also a dangerous one. The fuel system, as it is critical for the functioning of the state, is a plausible target of terrorist acts. The lawmakers also took into consideration the fact that the fuel that arrives to Poland may not meet quality standards. And thus may not be suitable for sale.

PERN logistics infrastructure. Source: PERN

What are the consequences of disruptions in the fuel sector?

Every threat has certain consequences. Shortage of fuel is only one of  them. A terrorist attack, or even a breakdown at a refinery or of a pipeline, can cause panic among the population. The same goes for lack of fuel at gas stations, even a specter of such a situation may cause panic, disruption of public order and traffic jams on access roads. We had a sample of that back in 2022 when Russia threatened that Poland would not make it without its oil and also in the fall of 2023. In addition, the current ruling majority suspects that the strategic fuel reserves may have been manipulated. According to the current government, in the fall last year Orlen may have decreased the reserves to up the supply and lower gas prices. A commission is to be set up to investigate this.

Issues with transport may be another problem if fuel deliveries are disrupted. This problem can especially affect people living outside large agglomerations. In this case, shortages in the supply of fuel can make it difficult not only to get to the city to do shopping or get to work. This threat has a real chance of making it impossible to reach a doctor. Which leads to another effect, the restriction of mobility for law enforcement and emergency services, and this already leads to a threat to health and life.

Disruptions in fuel security affect not only people, but also the economy and property. A major accident can lead to a decline in GDP, as a result of disruptions in the sectors dependent on fuel. They also directly affect the functioning of critical infrastructure, transport and communication are an essential aspect of it, and they are based on fuel. In addition to the above-mentioned difficulties for rescuing, fuel supply disruptions will hinder the operation of public administration and the supply of food. Of course, segments that are vulnerable to state have critical reserves, but taking advantage of them requires time and resources. The energy and heating sectors are also vulnerable.

KPZK does not directly diagnose the environmental impact of a fuel safety breach. However, this is not really the case, as oil spills and land or water poisoning are classified as chemical spills and are subject to separate procedures.

Who controls Polish fuel?

The main body responsible for monitoring Poland’s fuel safety is the President of the Governmental Strategic Reserves Agency. If a threat is detected, the Agency immediately informs the Prime Minister and the Government Security Center (RCB). The Energy Market Agency supports this process and the Presidents of both bodies submit regular reports to the energy minister. Due to the fact that fuel infrastructure is a true target of terrorist attacks, the Intelligence Agency is involved in monitoring threats against it. In order to ensure information is up to date, the legislation obliges the involvement of fuel companies in the form of company representatives for the protection of critical infrastructure.

Should we be afraid of this threat?

Interruptions in the operation of the fuel segment may lead to anything from minor disruptions to paralysis of the infrastructure. By attacking Ukraine, Russia has proven that the energy sector, including fuel, is one of its top targets. Also, a number of failures and sabotage actions in the Baltic prompt caution. However, there is no reason to panic. Poland, like any country, has reserves for various unforeseen situations. Launching them is only a matter of time. Fuel shortages, or high fuel prices, are often the result of self-perpetuating panics like the one in 2022. Huge queues at gas stations will dry up local supplies, and it will take time to replenish them. At the same time, when companies artificially raise prices in response to higher demand, they create an atmosphere of panic and danger.