PICKETS outside the Shell oil refinery in Ellesmere Port sparked surges in demand for petrol in some areas of Wrexham.

Asda reported a massive increase in demand for fuel and other petrol stations also reported greater demand.

The pickets sparked fears that there may be a repeat of the fuel blockades of September 2000 when Britain was brought to its knees by determined farmers and hauliers who stopped fuel being delivered from oil refineries across the nation.

That protest began in Wales and this week's was led by Monmouthshire farmer David Handley, who has said he wants to launch another fuel blockade before the General Election, claiming the Government has done nothing to protect hauliers, farmers or the general public from massive fuel price rises since the last action.

In 2000, when the fuel blockade took place, it was because motorists did not want to pay more than 80p per litre for standard fuel. Currently unleaded costs between 83.9p and 85.9p per litre and diesel costs 91.6p per litre in some places.

Stanlow oil refinery was picketed on Monday morning in protest at rocketing fuel prices. Mr Handley met with bosses and now hopes to convince oil unions to support any blockade action his group, Farmers for Action, decide to take.

This time the farmers did not try to stop fuel leaving the refinery but news of their action sparked panic among some motorists.

'We have seen a major increase in demand,' said a spokesman for Asda.

'We have enough fuel to last for now but if there is a blockade we could run out.

'We do not know whether there is a contingency plan for us, those details are down to our distribution centre and Asda House. They are obviously not revealed before they are needed but if there is a plan we will be notified when necessary.'

At the Shell garage. on Mold Road. there was also some increase.

'We had a couple of surges,' said manager Dave Dawson. 'Nothing major, but we have heard some Shell garages like Queensferry have been absolutely swamped by people reacting to the news.

'We see no need to panic and would advise motorists the same. Shell have made it clear they have an emergency plan and that what happened in 2000 will never happen again. They have promised us that. This wasn't even a blockade, so there has been no disruption to supply and we aren't expecting one.'

In Coedpoeth there was also an atmosphere of calm.

'We had a quiet Monday, actually,' said Premier Garage manager Sue Drake. 'There has been no rush at all.'