If the whole COVID thing itself wasn’t bad enough, the shortages we encountered in the earliest months of the pandemic made it even worse. Sure, there was an increased need for hand sanitizer, cleansers, paper towels and masks. There was also hoarding of all those, along with, of all things, toilet paper. And it took several months for manufacturers to catch up with the need (and want. Because not all wants are needs).
Now there’s potentially another shortage coming down the pike, just as people are starting to look forward to their summer vacations – a shortage of crude oil. a.k.a. gasoline.
This time, at least, it’s not that we don’t have enough – right now there is plenty of gasoline out there. It’s that there’s a shortage of qualified tanker truck drivers who are needed to make the gasoline deliveries to gas stations.
How bad is it? The National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) trade group reports that 20 to 25% of all tanker trucks are currently sitting idle because there’s no one to operate them. That adds up to a shortage of over 50,000 drivers.
“We’ve been dealing with a driver shortage for a while, but the pandemic took that issue and metastasized it,” Ryan Streblow, executive vice president of the NTTC, told CNN. “It certainly has grown exponentially.”
The problem is that most people, taking heed to what the doctors and scientists said, stayed home throughout most of 2020. There were lockdowns. Many self-isolated for safety. Others worked from home. Whatever the case, staying home more meant filling your car up less, which meant gas stations were running out of gas at a much slower pace. So less gas deliveries were needed. With so much less work available, many tanker drivers (as well as dispatchers, back-office staff, mechanics, inspectors, etc.) left the business.
Hauling gas is not the same as hauling most other commodities. To drive an 18-wheeler full of orange juice or paper towels, you only need a commercial driver’s license. But hauling gasoline, a potentially explosive substance, requires additional certification.
There have already been spot shortages of gas in a small handful of states because there aren’t enough tank truck drivers. The fear is those kinds of shortages will become exponential, especially during the summer months when people drive for vacation, on top of millions of newly vaccinated people who are finally getting out to (*cough*) “live their lives.”
And if there’s a hurricane brewing, a refinery explosion, or anything else that tends to make people “top off the tank,” this summer, it could make any shortage that much worse.
Oh, and you know what happens when there’s a shortage of anything – higher prices, too.
*** Many thanks to Michael G. for the heads up about this topic!
Feature Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives / flickr
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary