Gas: Tanker driver shortages could make it tough to keep stations full

Gas: Tanker driver shortages could make it tough to keep stations full

There’s plenty of gasoline this summer.
Getting it to the gas stations, though, may be a different story.
Just as the summer driving season is kicking in after a year in which most families were stuck at home, there have been reports of some gas pumps running out of fuel for short periods.
The problem is a shortage of tanker truck drivers to transport the fuel from storage terminals to the stations.
“We have enough gas. It’s just an issue of getting the gas where it needs to go,” said Kimberly Schwind, spokeswoman for Ohio AAA. The Columbus metro area has experienced some of those fuel shortfalls.
She said she expects there could be problems throughout the summer.
“It’s spotty. It’s going to be temporary,” Schwind said.
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Spot shortages have popped up in several places around the country, including the Florida Keys, central Iowa, Washington, Oregon and Colorado, according to the Oil Price Information Service.
So far, it hasn’t been a big problem, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for the service.
“Most of the outages have been brief enough so that motorists have regarded the lack of availability as an annoyance or inconvenience as opposed to a crisis,” he said.
When gasoline consumption plummeted a year ago as the economy was largely shut down because of COVID-19, tankers were parked, and many drivers retired or went to work elsewhere, Schwind said.
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Now that demand for fuel is returning, there’s a need for more drivers to keep stations fully supplied, she said.
What’s important is for motorists not to panic and fill up before they normally would, she said.
That’s what happened during the Colonial Pipeline ransomware episode that shut down the distribution of gasoline throughout the Southeast and East Coast last month, aggravating an already tough situation.
Demand for gasoline is expected to keep climbing during the summer as the economy reopens and families hit the road for long-overdue vacations.
Demand is averaging about 9.1 million barrels a day nationally, OPIS said, citing federal energy data. That could increase to 9.6 million or 9.7 million in July and August, meaning that an extra 2,600 to 3,150 tankers will be needed on the road to move gasoline from bulk terminals to stations.
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All of this comes as oil prices have risen back above $70 a barrel. And that has helped drive up gasoline costs. The price for a gallon of regular gas averaged $3.10 Monday, up from $3.07 a week earlier and $2.18 a year ago, according to AAA fuel supply gauge.
“The wildcard that could really stress the system comes via unpredictable consumer behavior,” Kloza said. “When the Colonial Pipeline shut down, consumers even 500 to 1,000 miles away felt compelled to top off tanks, in what was a hysterical reaction to a regional problem.”
Follow Mark Williams on Twitter @BizMarkWilliams

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