As Colonial Pipeline resumes deliveries, the United States faces a new roadblock: a shortage of truck drivers to transport gasoline to stations.
Drivers facing fuel shortages in parts of the eastern and southern United States may find it takes weeks before fuel levels return to normal.
Now that Colonial Pipeline Co. has resumed deliveries that were interrupted for nearly a week by a cyber attack, the industry faces a new logistical problem in addition to a lack of available fuel: not enough truck drivers to transport gasoline and diesel from distribution centers to outlets.
As of Friday morning, about 87% of gas stations in Washington, DC, were out of gas, 42% in Maryland and 30% in Florida, according to retailer GasBuddy. While outages have declined slightly in North Carolina and South Carolina, more than half of stations in every state are still without gasoline.
“Too many stations need fuel, not enough rack-level capacity, not enough truck drivers,” Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said on Twitter. “Most of these failed states have continued to see panicked buying, which is likely a contributing factor to the slowdown in the recovery so far. It will take a few weeks. “
Colonial Pipeline Co. paid hackers in Eastern Europe nearly $ 5 million to stop a ransomware attack that shut down its network of pipelines carrying gasoline, diesel and jet fuel on along the east coast of the United States. The blackout, which occurred just weeks before the summer driving season kicked off, left some retail stations dry in more than 10 states and pushed the national average price at the pump to the over $ 3 a gallon for the first time in six years.
One of North America’s largest distributors said shortages would drag on due to a lack of tankers to transport the supplies.
“It will probably be seven to ten days before the average consumer really notices a noticeable improvement” in local supplies, said Andy Milton, senior vice president of procurement at Mansfield Energy Corp., whose tightly-owned company manages more. of 3 billion gallons. of fuel per year in the United States and Canada.
Mansfield brought trucks to areas affected by shortages as far as Minnesota and Texas. “The truck itself is becoming the big, big problem,” Milton said.
Many truck drivers stopped transporting fuel during the pandemic when demand for gasoline collapsed. Now companies are rushing to rehire them. As recently as last week, Pilot Corp. was offering $ 5,000 hiring bonuses to tanker drivers to stock its stores and said it could hire 200 people before the summer.
The deadly winter storm that crippled Texas in February, followed by the shutdown of Colonial, were back-to-back crises for the Mansfield network.
“I hope there isn’t a hurricane around the corner,” Milton said. “It might cause me to change careers at this point.”
On Thursday, the origin of the Colonial system in the South was operating at less than half of its capacity, according to people familiar with the matter. Fuel traders are paying themselves a bit more to access the pipeline, the first time since before the pandemic.
To help alleviate the crisis, the Biden administration has granted two Jones Act waivers to companies, including Valero Energy Corp., that allow foreign tankers to send fuel to the US east coast.
Since Colonial’s resumption of operations, an oil tanker from France that had been diverted to the American Atlantic coast has now changed course to the Gulf coast. On Thursday, a European tanker en route to the Bahamas arrived in Savannah, Georgia, to unload diesel.