The national average price of a gallon of regular is $ 3.10, the highest since October 2014. The average has only increased by 2% since Memorial Day, but 42% from the previous year. was a year old, when pandemic restrictions nearly halted demand and sent oil. and falling gas prices.
But dry stations have nothing to do with the price – or even the supply – of gasoline. It is the shortage of tanker drivers coupled with growing demand that is causing bottlenecks and shortages in the supply chain. Experts say a growing number of stations are reporting they are simply not able to get gas delivered, at any cost.
Right now, the blackouts are scattered across the country, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for the oil price information service, which tracks AAA prices. He said blackouts had been reported in the Pacific Northwest, northern California, Colorado and Iowa. Outages have also been reported in Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, said Patrick DeHaan, spokesperson for GasBuddy.
“Previously, station owners had only one idea in mind to schedule truck deliveries. Now that’s the No.1 job, ”Kloza said. “What worries me for July is that the increased demand represents approximately 2,500 to 3,000 additional deliveries needed each day. There are simply no drivers to do it. “
The AAA projects that 43.6 million Americans will travel by car this July 4 weekend, the highest number since the start of the year. And given the pent-up desire for summer getaways, Kloza said it was possible for gas demand to surpass late summer 2019 records.
He is also concerned that when drivers see the occasional station without gasoline, they will respond by filling their tanks more often than necessary, which in itself can cause gasoline shortages. That’s what happened last May, when the colonial pipeline hack caused widespread blackouts at stations along the east coast.
“We have the same advice we had then, now is not the time to fill up every car you have and every container you have,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for National Association of Convenience Stores. “We hate to see shortages and outages caused by panicking drivers and filling their tanks. “
Driver shortage is a problem throughout the trucking industry, but it takes special qualifications to drive a tanker, making the shortage worse compared to other industries. According to the National Tank Truck Carriers, the industry’s trade group, between 20% and 25% of tank trucks nationwide are parked as summer approaches due to a shortage of qualified drivers. At this point in 2019, only 10% of tankers were inactive for this reason.
“We’ve been facing a driver shortage for some time, but the pandemic has taken this problem and metastasized it,” said Ryan Streblow, executive vice president of the NTTC. “It has certainly grown exponentially. “
The pandemic has prompted some tanker drivers to retire and others to turn to other trucking jobs that were in higher demand last year when gasoline demand fell so sharply.
Finding new engines won’t be a quick fix, said Brian Milne of data research firm DTN, which tracks energy prices and supplies.
“I know the pandemic has prompted a number of older drivers to retire, and they are struggling to find new drivers,” he said. “I think it’s going to keep showing up in different places. “
DeHaan said the station’s current outages are not as concentrated as they were after the colonial pipeline was hacked. This makes it virtually impossible to get an accurate count of the number of stations that are low on gasoline, but the number is increasing.
“It’s hard to predict where the challenges are,” he said. “It’s just random pockets in cities big and small. ”
DeHaan expects the problem to worsen over the next four to six weeks.
“I don’t think demand has peaked yet,” he said.