The coming gas shortage has a strange cause

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

Most of you who keep up with U.S. energy policy news are probably looking at that headline and scratching your heads. A gas shortage? Why would there be a gas shortage when the United States has become one of the most dominant energy producers on the planet? You might be tempted to suspect that it has something to do with Joe Biden’s executive orders intended to shut down fracking, end pipeline construction and other “green” initiatives. That will probably happen over the next four years, but he’s not going to have that big of an effect before the beginning of summer when the next gas shortage is predicted to hit us. No, this is something entirely different. It’s not technically so much a shortage of gas that we have to worry about, but rather a shortage of truck drivers to bring the gas to the petrol stations where you purchase it. (WSAZ)

Gas stations might be running out of gas this summer. It has nothing to do with a crude oil shortage, but instead a shortage of truck drivers.

Tanker truckers require special certification, including a commercial driver’s license. There are also weeks of training after being hired.

The National Tank Truck Carriers, an industry trade group, says up to 25% of tank trucks are parked heading into this summer because of a lack of qualified drivers.

The report from National Tank Truck Carriers indicates that at this point in 2019, less than ten percent of tanker trucks were sitting idle, waiting for drivers. Now that number has more than doubled. And as with almost all of the bad news you hear these days, the pandemic is to blame.

When the lockdowns started last spring, demand for gasoline plummeted as most people’s cars largely sat idle in their driveways except for essential trips to the grocery store and such. As a result, the number of tanker trucks needed to constantly refill the holding tanks at gas stations decreased dramatically. Many of those drivers left the business and sought work in other sectors. At the same time, schools where drivers train to earn the required certification shut down for most of the year. Now, as demand is rising again, they haven’t caught up to the curve in terms of graduating the required number of new drivers.

If we want to look on the bright side, this might represent an opportunity for people (especially those without a college degree) to move into a new field that pays quite well, particularly if your old job is still shut down by the government. The requirements for becoming a tanker truck driver are a bit more complicated than other driving jobs, but if you can pass the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) test and then gain a couple of specialized endorsements from the DMV (e.g. hazardous materials handling, etc.), Schneiders Trucking estimates that you can be ready to take a job with as little as three to five weeks of training.

Unfortunately, we may be getting a preview this summer of what’s going to be happening if the demands of the government and the promises being made by automobile manufacturers come to fruition and the nation largely shifts over to electric cars by the end of the decade. Gas stations will largely become a thing of the past, being replaced by electric charging stations. That means that an entire industry of long-haul drivers will need to move into other fields. Even if you support the move to electric vehicles, we need to be aware of the downstream effects of such a change and the impact it will have on workers and the economy in general.

Refineries will take a huge hit as well, sending most of their workers to the unemployment lines. There will still be a demand for jet aircraft fuel and some niche opportunities for marine engines that can’t be practically replaced with electric motors, but much of those industries and the supply chain that supports them will be drying up.

In the meantime, you may want to just keep your tank topped off as much as possible. There will certainly be some gas stations that still have fuel to sell you, but you may have to drive further to find them and wait in line when you arrive.