The National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) industry trade group warns that a worsening semi-truck driver shortage may spark higher fuel prices and gas shortages this summer.
CNN reported that industry group said about a quarter of tanker trucks aren't on the road ahead of the busy summer driving season as there's a shortage in qualified drivers available. Before the pandemic, about 10% of the tanker trucks were idled for similar reasons.
"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."
The shortage intensified last year when lockdowns forced Americans to stay home, collapsing fuel demand. This meant tanker drivers weren't getting enough routes, and some chose to leave the business.
"We were even hauling boxes for Amazon just to keep our drivers busy," said Holly McCormick, vice president in charge of driver recruitment and retention at Groendyke Transport, an Oklahoma tanker company.
"A lot of drivers didn't want to do the safety protocols. We're also working with an aging workforce. Many said, 'I might as well take it as a cue to retire.'"
Adding to the challenges is the job requires not just a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) but also a separate Tanker certification and a Hazardous Materials (HazMat) certification, which requires many written tests and would mean adding new drivers to increase capacity might not be in the cards ahead of the summer season. Related: Oil Rises To Seven-Week High On Strong Remand Recovery
"I've talked to retailers. They say there could be places where there are brief outages," Jeff Lenard, a spokesman at the National Association of Convenience Stores, told CNN.
"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."
Tom Kloza, a chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, warned if only a few gas stations run out of gas and become national headlines, it could trigger a panic hoarding, sort of like what happens with toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic.
Currently, the national average of regular gasoline is around $2.89 a gallon, up more than 60% from a year ago. With demand on the upswing as the economy reopens, Kloza believes the national average could catapult over $3 by summer.
For other reasons, gas stations in Las Vegas Valley are experiencing fuel shortages and price spikes, a redux for babyboomers who lived through the 1970s energy crisis.
All of these supply chain woes have culminated into one thing: higher fuel prices.
The latest inflation data shows Americans are experiencing some of the fastest consumer price increases in more than a decade. The fuel oil index has increased 20.2% over the last 12 months.
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