Tanker driver shortage puts fuel availability in flux

·4 min read

May 9—Potential gasoline outages could create headaches for motorists planning to hit the road this summer.

While there isn't a lack of gas being produced, a growing shortage of tanker truck drivers may lead certain pumps to go dry.

"In some instances, gas stations may not having enough manpower to bring gasoline from the rack, where truckers fill up, to their stations," said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, a travel and navigation app. "You may periodically see stations running a day or two behind with normal fuel deliveries in some heavily trafficked areas, but we're not talking about a long-term event."

De Haan doesn't expect any major supply problems unless consumers panic and start hoarding gas.

"The system isn't going to be strained unless Americans react poorly," he said. "Then, we could have some more challenges."

He noted a shortage of tanker drivers coupled with an increase in commerce and shipments over the last several years put pressure on the industry even before the pandemic spurred more changes.

"COVID-19 hit and gasoline demand initially plummeted about 60% and some logistics companies let go a few of their drivers," De Haan said. "A year later, gasoline demand has rebounded sharply and now some communities may experience a very brisk summer for tourism."

Overall, De Haan expects locations like Las Vegas and Orlando, which attract a high volume of tourists, to be most affected by any shortages.

"It shouldn't have a major effect on an area like Scranton," he said.

De Haan doesn't anticipate any pricing swings to materialize from the issue, either.

"Gasoline tankers haul 8,000 gallons and refineries are producing millions of gallons," he said. "This doesn't rise to the threshold that would be a pricing event."

Steve Firmstone, president and general manager of Honesdale-based Firmstone Lakewood Fuels, also recognized the dwindling number of drivers throughout the area, but doesn't believe gas supply will be a big issue in the local region.

"My gut feeling is I don't know if you'll see stations in Northeast Pennsylvania actually running out of gas," he said.

Firmstone believes the additional accreditations needed in order to transport gasoline have contributed to the decline in new drivers.

"In our industry you need to have the Hazmat endorsement which is another couple hoops you have to jump through," he said. "It's a very big concern and I don't know what the answer is. Hopefully more people will take a look at driving as a career and we can get back to some sense of normalcy."

Unlike some companies that have been hit hard by departures, Firmstone Fuels has maintained its workforce.

"We're very blessed," Firmstone said. "Our staff is a lot like family. I haven't had a lot of turnover. But, when we talk regionally and statewide, the driver shortage always seems to be the number one topic and it has been for years."

Firmstone also feels fortunate to have enough qualified drivers to step in if someone is unable to make a run.

"As long as nothing happens to our current set of drivers, we're OK," he said. "We have contingency plans in place. If something happened to our transport driver that does the direct shipment from the terminals to the gas stations, I have other people who can be pressed into service."

Kellie Barrett, vice president of order fulfillment for Road Scholar Transport in Dunmore, which offers specialty services such as pharmaceutical and food transport, stated the driver shortage is prevalent in all sectors of the trucking industry.

"It's definitely a problem," Barrett said. "It's difficult, in this climate, to get anyone who is not working back into the workforce. There is a decrease in the amount of people entering the industry and a lot of people are retiring. The industry was already short, we're just facing a more severe shortage at this point."

Road Scholar has replenished its driver pool, but not without providing added incentives, Barrett said.

"We had to invest a lot of money into marketing and back into the employees pockets," she said. "We had to pay our drivers more in order for them to want to come to work. Hero pay is here to stay."

Contact the writer: rtomkavage@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @rtomkavage on Twitter.

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