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Switzerland to make oil available to US

People are queuing for hours for petrol in the hurricane-hit areas

(Keystone)

Switzerland is to tap into its oil reserves to help the United States which is grappling with serious supply problems following Hurricane Katrina.

The Swiss offer comes in the framework of an emergency plan agreed by the International Energy Agency on Friday night.

The IEA said its 26 member countries, including Switzerland, would make a total of 60 million barrels of oil available to the market for a period of 30 days. Members are free to decide for themselves what measures they take to make up their quota.

The Paris-based agency said the loss of production in the Gulf of Mexico, and the considerable damage to oil refining and transportation infrastructure had combined to seriously disrupt supplies.

"The IEA countries plus the European Union Commission unanimously support the measure to make available to the market the equivalent of two million barrels per day of oil for an initial period of 30 days," the agency said in a news release.

The agency said that while the initial impact of the storm was regional, the implications for the oil market were global. Petrol prices in Switzerland have risen to new highs in the wake of the hurricane damage to US refineries.

The head of the IEA, Claude Mandil, has said he fears a global energy crisis.

Reserves

Switzerland said it wanted to show its solidarity with the US at this difficult time.

"Switzerland is showing solidarity by participating in efforts to resolve the supply problems," the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) and the Federal Energy Office said in a statement.

The head of the energy office, Walter Steinmann, said Switzerland intended to provide the 360,000 barrels of petrol from its emergency reserves.

The Federal Office for National Economic Supply said on Saturday that consumers would not be affected. There were no plans to introduce rationing or speed restrictions. It also rejected speculation in the mass-circulation Blick newspaper that cars could be banned from Swiss roads on Sundays.

Economics Minister Joseph Deiss is expected to decide early next week how Switzerland will act.

Switzerland has oil reserves for at least four and a half months, which can only be accessed in times of real need.

In the 60 years since the obligatory reserves were created they have never once been touched.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Switzerland is to take part in an International Energy Agency emergency plan to help the US overcome its oil supply problems.

In concrete terms, Switzerland could draw on its obligatory emergency reserves or reduce domestic demand.

Switzerland's reserves are sufficient to last four and a half months. Since the reserves were created 60 years ago, they have never been touched.

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