Summer Gas Shortage Likely for Dumbest Reason

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

As if you needed more doom and gloom to kick off this week, the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) lobby has confessed that its fleet will go into the next few months operating well below capacity. That means there’s a very good chance that some parts of the country could see gas shortages over the summer. While we’re praying that this doesn’t come with with the deluge of less-than-desirable automobiles that followed the infamous 1973 oil crisis, a similar spike in fuel price is likely as gasoline becomes sporadically difficult to find.

With the United States technically still energy independent, the culprit is not a foreign oil embargo but our own inability to plan ahead. North America was already operating with a deficit of qualified tanker drivers ahead of the pandemic. Lockdowns suppressed demand as everyone was forced to remain immobile, suppressing demand that ultimately encouraged widespread layoffs and early retirement. Now there aren’t enough drivers as demand stabilizes.

This is one of those problems that literally everyone should have seen coming unless they were operating under the assumption that lockdowns would continue in perpetuity. But here we are, with CNN breaking the story.

Drivers are required to have a commercial license but fuel transporters also have special certifications allowing them to move volatile materials using a specific class of vehicles. Once hired, most drivers will be subjected to additional training to prove they’re safe behind the wheel and versed in the latest safety protocols. Going through the entire process can take months and the industry is already operating at a deficit.

From CNN:

According to the National Tank Truck Carriers, the industry’s trade group, somewhere between 20 [percent] to 25 [percent] of tank trucks in the fleet are parked heading into this summer due to a paucity of qualified drivers. At this point in 2019, only 10 [percent] of trucks were sitting idle for that reason.

“We’ve been dealing with a driver shortage for a while, but the pandemic took that issue and metastasized it,” said Ryan Streblow, the executive vice president of the NTTC. “It certainly has grown exponentially.”

Indeed, drivers left the business a year ago when gasoline demand ground to a near halt during the early pandemic-related shutdowns.

With demand for drivers likewise screeching to a halt in 2020, many training schools were shuttered. January 2020 also introduced a federal audit that eliminated between 40,000 and 60,000 drivers from the national employment pool that had prior drug or alcohol convictions.

Retailers are becoming increasingly concerned over the possibility of outages, which we saw to a limited degree in places like Florida over spring break. Summer road trips should be even more taxing on the supply chain, with popular vacation spots likely to have the most trouble. But there are growling concerns that smaller stations in isolated communities will similarly be taking it on the chin.

“I’ve talked to retailers, they say there could be places where there are brief outages,” explained Jeff Lenard, spokesman at the National Association of Convenience Stores. “If they have no fuel, they have no business. People aren’t going to stop in for a sandwich if you don’t have fuel.”

Tanker firms are increasing pay in the hope that they’ll be able to retain drivers and encourage new blood to join up. But this is all going to trickle down to the people paying at the pump. In a worst-case scenario, we could even see sporadic outages and elevated fees lead to a run on fuel similar to the madness that engulfed toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. Considering fuel prices are already up 60 percent against this time in 2020 and COVID has kept everyone on edge for the last 13 months, it wouldn’t take much to create a national freakout that resulted in panic buying. However, tanker operators and industry analysts are only predicting short-term, sporadic outages and the national average climbing to $3 per gallon through the summer.

[Image: Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Winters07079 Winters07079 on May 05, 2021

    Due partially to the pandemic, fuel companies are facing a scarcity of tank truck drivers. The net result is that between 20 and 25 percent of tankers in the fleet are sitting idle, according to the National Tank Truck Carriers (via CNN Business), and that means less fuel can be transported to gas stations across the country. Driving schools shut down for a while last year, and they're scrambling to replenish the gap, but truck driver jobs overall have been more difficult to fill in recent years. Concrete Contractors Fort Collins

  • Kmars2009 Kmars2009 on May 05, 2021

    Always have some excuse to raise the price of gas. Everything is going up now. UGH

  • Ajla "Gee, wonder why car (as well as home) insurance rates are much higher in places like Florida..." Severe weather is on the list but even if a benevolent genie reverted the climate to circa 1724 I think FL would still have high cost. Our home insurance rates have increased 102% since 2021 and I don't think weather models account for that much of a change in that period. Florida's insurance assignment of benefit regulation meant that it had ~80% of the country's of the insurance lawsuits on ~12% of the nation's claims and litigated claims can be expensive to insurance companies. The state altered some regulations and is having some success on getting more companies back, even with the severe weather risks, through relatively bipartisan efforts. With car insurance just beyond the basic "Florida" stuff, the population increase of the past few years is overwhelming the roads. But, I think the biggest thing is we have very low mandated car insurance levels. Only $10K personal injury and $10K property damage. No injury liability needed. And 20% of the state has no insurance. So people that actually want insurance pay out the nose. Like I commented above my under/uninsured coverage alone is 2.5x my comprehensive & collision.
  • Juan Let's do an 1000 mile drive and see who gets there first.
  • Eliyahu CVT needed for MPG. Outback is indeed the legacy of, err, the Legacy.
  • Gayneu I can comment on these. My wife always thought the Minis were "cute" so I bought her a used 2005 (non-S, 5 speed) for one of her "special" birthdays. She loved it and I kinda did too. Somehow a hole developed in the transmission case and the fluid drained out, ruining the car (too expensive to fix). A local mechanic bought it for $800.We then bought a used 2015 S (6 speed) which we still have today (80k miles). Her sister just bought a used S as well (also manual). It has been a dependable car but BMW-priced maintenance and premium gas hurts for sure. I think the earlier generation (like in the article) were better looking with cleaner lines. The 2015 S rides too stiff for me (Chicago roads) but is a hoot on smooth ones. It does seem to shift weird - its hard to describe but it shifts differently from every other manual I have driven. No matter how hard I try, so won't let go of her Mini.
  • Crown Seems like they cut some cylinders too.A three cylinder...where are they planning on selling that??