George Whatley has brought me a cup of tea and we settle down around the kitchen table of his well-appointed bungalow a short walk from the River Thames.

The 80-year-old former Bank of England security guard is keen to tell me about what he claims is his latest victory against oil tankers and terminals.

He is sat beside a montage of newspaper clippings showing other campaigns he was involved with against Occidental Petroleum, Eni of Italy and British Gas.

Oikos Storage has just postponed the formal submission of plans to double its petroleum tanks here on Canvey Island.

George thinks his local campaign against it was decisive: “It was always going to be a David and Goliath fight ... We just thought: why should these big corporations just barge their way into our back gardens and do what they want?”

Oikos declined to say why it had postponed its plans, but other industry figures tell me it could be because of new expectations of falling demand or because Russian products are not being discharged there anymore because of Ukraine.

Oikos will not comment on whether or not it has been receiving Siberian petrol or diesel, saying it just operates storage and does not organise the shipping.

But the terminal that serves key UK airports and transport depots partly via pipeline from Canvey Island is at the centre of the push/pull over the use of fossil fuels.

The invasion of Ukraine has had a big impact on the debate and shipping patterns around crude and oil products.

Around the latter has been a huge surge in product tanker shares over recent weeks amid increasing demand for this kind of vessel.

Eighty-year-old former Bank of England security guard George Whatley is keen to tell me about what he claims is his latest victory against oil tankers and terminals. Photo: Terry Macalister

This has been exacerbated by a number of factors but not least Western buyers trying to avoid exports from Russia, which may be subject to sanctions.

There has also been strong buying from Latin American countries while the US “driving” season is about to kick in and increase demand for petrol and diesel further.

Analysts at Clarksons Platou say product tanker stock valuations are up by nearly 50% this year with some freight rates doubling in the second over the first quarter of 2022.

On Tuesday, Monaco-based and New York-listed Scorpio Tankers saw its shares hit $26, up from $11 as recently as 21 January.

China has been exporting more oil products as Covid-19 lockdowns hit domestic demand, but Paris-based shipbroker Barry Rogliano Salles warns Beijing could slap a ban on outward shipments while new VLCCs and suezmax “dirty” tankers could come in to steal “clean” cargoes from the product tanker fleet.

The wider picture for tankers, generally, has been clouded by global economic growth expectations not being met due to Covid-19, the Ukraine crisis and supply chain disruptions.

The soaring price of crude could also dent demand. On Tuesday, BP reported its highest first-quarter profit figures for a decade. Earnings of $6.2bn were double what they were during the same period of 2021.

This pleased investors but increased calls on the UK government for a windfall tax to be levied. This is supposed to compensate for the pain being felt by motorists and homeowners struggling to pay for petrol and gas, which indeed will dent demand.

UK ministers have been reluctant to do this, arguing the UK North Sea needs more investment so that there is less need for importing Russian oil or products. The government fears BP will do less drilling locally if they are hit by a windfall tax, while others argue the answer to energy security — and the climate crisis — comes from exiting fossil fuels completely.

There are signs of this happening among consumers. Britons bought more electric vehicles in March than in the whole of 2019 combined, while diesel-powered cars took barely 5% of the market. Meanwhile, Chinese electric-vehicle sales soared 150% last year.

Down on Canvey Island, locals say it is a relief to know the demand for petroleum is dropping. One of George’s co-campaigners in the early days became a guitar hero. I popped in to see Wilko Johnson too. Surprisingly, he said he felt nostalgic about Big Oil on Canvey Island, which used to extend way beyond Oikos.

“I’m 74 and an old geezer so my protest days are over but, to tell you the truth, I was in love with those refineries: the towers, the flames, the magic,” he said.