Pumps across many parts of Scotland ran dry yesterday as Shell tanker drivers prepared for their fourth day on strike.
Motorists could not buy diesel at Newtonmore, Grantown and Aviemore over the weekend and it was in short supply in Inverness.
In Aviemore, Perth and Montrose, service stations also ran out of petrol. And in Dundee, Forfar and Forres, both fuels were rationed.
The strike escalated into a crisis in the north as drivers for other suppliers refused to cross a one-man picket line in Inverness.
Fresh talks aimed at resolving the pay dispute will be held tomorrow, but Unite union leaders warned the drivers will walk out again this weekend unless the dispute with tanker firms Hoyer and Suckling is resolved.
The walkout has left filling stations in Inverness and parts of the Highlands without their scheduled deliveries as well as having to cope with increased demand as neighbouring garages run dry.
Panic-buying is also being blamed, despite pleas to fill up only when necessary.
Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Danny Alexander, who had to visit three filling stations before finding one with diesel, urged the UK Government to take action.
He said: “At a time of real financial pressure on families, it is totally irresponsible of both the trade union and the company concerned to have allowed their dispute to get so out of hand.
“They should stop the strikes now and get back to the negotiating table.
“Ministers promised after the Grangemouth dispute to do more to emphasise the need to maintain supplies in rural areas – now they need to live up to that.
“The shortage of diesel is particularly problematic, especially in rural areas. The government needs to investigate why.”
At Shell’s Kingswell filling station in Inverness, a spokesman predicted it will run out of both diesel and petrol before tomorrow – when the strike ends and the next delivery is expected.
And in Beauly’s Bridgend station, another Shell garage, Donald MacPherson said he was “hoping and praying” his supplies will last until the next delivery.
In Forres, Seapark filling station owner Elaine Gittings was considering rationing fuel yesterday. She said: “We have still got fuel left but for how long, I don’t know.
“It’s panic-buying. People are filling every car full and because other stations are running out, we have people from God-knows-where coming to fill up. It makes no sense because there will be fuel on Tuesday.”
Alisdair Lyle, who runs independent Almondbank filling station in Crieff Road, Perth, accused the tanker drivers of holding the country to ransom.
“They’re already earning a very good wage, probably more than an independent station’s profit after a year’s turnover,” he said.
He ran out of diesel on Saturday and petrol yesterday.
“I find it irritating beyond words,” he said. “I have to keep paying staff and so have to keep the garage open.
“Then people shout at the staff because we have no fuel. The public are a bit naive as every time there’s a strike they panic buy, and that creates a bigger problem.”
Filling stations across Banff and Buchan were busy, but few reported shortages.
Union Road filling station in Banff ran out of regular petrol yesterday, but still had diesel and super-unleaded.
Petrol stations in nearby Fraserburgh were busy, but stocks were lasting. It was the same story in Peterhead.
Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said just 1% of filling stations across the country had no supplies – despite evidence to the contrary in the Highlands, and called for talks to resolve the dispute quickly.
He added: “There are some localised issues. We expect to get through this short disruption in the same way we did over the recent Grangemouth dispute.
“The advice of motoring organisations is that if you don’t need to fill up during the strike then don’t, and in that same commonsense spirit it is sensible to defer fuel purchase where possible until the strike is over.”
Last night a spokeswoman for BP confirmed its drivers were not crossing the picket line at the Inverness oil depot. It is believed Esso drivers are following suit.
Shell said around 15% of its stations had been affected by the strike, but admitted that a sustained stoppage would have a “significant impact”.
A spokeswoman confirmed Shell had received more reports of “stockouts” of petrol or diesel and apologised for any inconvenience.
She said: “We understand across the industry, only 8% of all 8,838 sites in Britain are affected by shortages of one or more of our fuel grades.
“The most recent poll of our sites indicates that approximately 249 of our sites in the UK are affected by shortages of one or more fuel grades.
“With another day of strike still to come, it is inevitable we will continue to see more difficulties with supply.”