Industry Overview

The UK downstream oil sector comprises over 200 companies involved in the refining, distribution and marketing of petroleum products.

They range from oil companies, which are members of UKPIA, supermarket chains, independent retail groups, through to the independent retailer with one site.

The market is split into commercial and retail sectors. The commercial market includes power generators, industrial, transport (aviation, marine and road) and agriculture customers, independent fuel distributors (transport & heating fuels), the Government and its agencies, public services and the military. The retail market covers fuels mainly sold from filling stations.

The market for road fuels in the UK amounts to about 35.7 million tonnes per year, equivalent to just under 45 billion litres. Demand for road transport fuels equates to 45 million litres of petrol and a little over 77 million litres of diesel per day. Other than jet fuel, the market for transport fuels is mature with little overall growth in demand and in the case of retail fuels sold on the forecourt, this sector is virtually stagnant. Sales of petrol currently represent 37% of road transport demand by litres sold, whilst sales of diesel now represent 63% of total demand. 

The members of UKPIA run the major oil refineries in the UK and they also market a wide range of petroleum products.

Over the last 26 years the retail sector has undergone major changes with the number of filling stations declining from over 19,000 sites in 1990 to just 8,494 at the end of 2015. These changes have been driven by a number of factors, including the entry of supermarket groups into the market. With the development of the out-of-town store and filling station, they have captured ~44% of the total retail fuels market by 2015, which has increased from 11% in 1992. Fuel retailing has become a high volume, low margin business and increased competition, particularly from supermarkets, has squeezed margins.

 Year No. of Sites
Company Owned
% of Total
Av. Site Throughput
(mio. Litres)

2015 8,494 1,216 14.3% 5.15
2014 8,591  1,819  21.2%  4.71 
2013 8,613 1,927  22.4% 4.86
2012 8,608 1,600* 19% 4.62
2011 8,706 2,210  25% 4.78 
2010 8,787 2,216 25% 4.68
2009 8,921 2,229 25% 4.28
2008 9,264 2,190 24% 4.01
2007 9,430 2,191 23% 3.99
2006 9,526 2,225 23% 3.93
2005 9,726  2,391  25%  3.82 
2004 10,351 2,722 26% 3.63
2003 10,535 3,041 29% 3.45
2002 11,425 3,805 33% 3.28
2001 12,201 3,966 33% 2.99
2000 13,043 4,295 33% 2.87
1999 13,716 4,470 33 2.73
1998 13,758 4,713 34% 2.71

Source: Experian Catalist (2005-2015); Energy Institute Retail Marketing Survey (1998-2005)

This fierce competition has forced most fuel retailers to concentrate on large volume throughput sites with modern forecourt and shop facilities. Independent retailers usually have agreements with oil companies to sell fuel under the brand of the oil company.

By law these arrangements have a number of restrictions imposed by the Office of Fair Trading, including one that limits the "tie" to a particular company to a maximum of 5 years. Although the rate of decline in the number of filling stations is likely to slow in coming years, fierce competition in the retail market is unlikely to abate so continued consolidation or even withdrawal from the market is likely to be a feature.

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Contact us


UK Petroleum Industry
Association Ltd.
Quality House
Quality Court
Chancery Lane

London, WC2A 1HP

Tel: 020 7269 7600


UK Petroleum Industry
Association Ltd.
15th Floor, Brunel House
2 Fitzalan Road

Cardiff, CF24 0EB

Tel: 02920 646168



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