Motorists beware: a diesel shortage may lead to a gasoline shortage, too


The fuel market was rocked yesterday by a series of tweets from Craig Fuller, the CEO of Freightwaves, one of the premier logistics and shipping monitors.  They included these examples and response (click each tweet to be taken to the source document):

Those initial reports have not (yet) been followed up directly.  As of this morning, Freightwaves is reporting:

Continuing declines on the East Coast have raised concerns about adequate supplies for truckers and other consumers. 

The one statement FreightWaves has been able to obtain from any of the big three truck stop chains — Love’s, Pilot Flying J and Travel Centers of America (NASDAQ: TA) — was from Love’s last week when a spokeswoman said, “Love’s is monitoring the fluid situation on the East Coast. The company isn’t currently restricting purchases. Love’s will continue to use its logistics and fuel delivery companies, Musket and Gemini, to minimize impacts to customers.”

Requests for comment from those three truck stops Wednesday had not been returned at publication time.

But a Bloomberg report quoted John Catsimatidis, the CEO of United Refining, a small East Coast refiner and fuel distributor, as seeing trouble ahead for diesel consumers. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see diesel being rationed on the East Coast this summer,” Catsimatidis told Bloomberg. “Right now inventories are low and we may see a shortage in coming months.”

Another factor in the tight market is not new, but with the reduced diesel supplies out of Russia — a major supplier — it is becoming more significant: a loss of U.S. refining capacity.

Refinery utilization nationwide was at 90% last week. That is right about in the middle of where utilization has come for the first weekly report of May over the past six years, excluding the pandemic-related operations of 2020.

The problem from the consumer side is that the base against which that is measured has declined. The current operable capacity listed by the EIA is 17.941 million barrels a day (as of February). At the start of 2020, that figure was at its high-water mark of 18.976 million.

The EIA, in July of last year, said it had removed six refineries from its permanent base of refining capacity. While that can be offset by capacity expansions and de-bottlenecking elsewhere, the end result is that even at full capacity — and the nation’s refining system never operates at 100% — there is less capability to produce refined products in the U.S. than there was two years ago.

There’s more at the link.

Just to make life more interesting, the USA is exporting more and more diesel to Europe, where there’s a critical shortage of the fuel (and it’s fetching record high prices) following the cutting off of supplies from Russia.  That’s great for those making money out of it – but it leaves us short of fuel we need ourselves.

It goes without saying that diesel is absolutely critical for our economy.  Trains and trucks are utterly dependent on it.  Without diesel, they’ll stop in their tracks.  As Karl Denninger reminded us yesterday (bold, italicized and underlined text in original), fuel prices are therefore at the heart of inflation as a whole:

The other Gorilla in the room, fuel oil aka diesel fuel, is up 80% from last year.  Until and unless that is stopped and the price comes back down, which will only happen if and when the government ceases its war on fossil fuels, there is no way for the general upward pressure on prices to be reversed.  Every piece of farm equipment forward to the delivery of the food to your store runs on diesel.  Every single item you buy travels at least the last part of its journey moved by diesel.  I do not care how you “feel” about the issues related to the use of fossil fuels, the simple reality is that without them you have no fertilizer, no food and nothing in the store so all of the claims of virtue you issue will make you broke or even cause you to starve.

As if that weren’t bad enough, I’ve been surprised to find many motorists ignoring the risk to our personal mobility.  They seem to blithely assume that because our cars run on gasoline, a diesel shortage won’t affect us.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  You see, gasoline is delivered to your neighborhood gas station in big tanker trucks – trucks fueled by . . . guess what?  Diesel.  If there ain’t no diesel, ain’t gonna be no gasoline, either.

I strongly suggest that we all make a habit of keeping our vehicles topped up.  I’m planning to keep mine at not less than two-thirds to three-quarters full, just in case.



  1. Also, the feed stocks for both Diesel and gasoline are often the same. So a refinery can make Diesel or gasoline, but not both. If refining Diesel is more profitable, guess what happens to gasoline.

  2. And for those prudent enough to keep their tanks at 3/4 full or higher, &*%$ing Lefties will accuse us of "hoarding" in 3, 2, 1….

  3. One of the largest frustrations for me is that I know every refiner and storage terminal along the Delaware river, feeding the heart of where this issue will strike hardest- and this was predictable, as companies like Sunoco got tired of fighting the EPA and just walked away from their refineries, selling them to companies that only maintain certain parts of the refineries to maintain a smaller capacity sufficient to their needs- Monroe Trainer is a good example- it used to be a massive refinery, but headwinds from the EPA made it easier to sell off to Delta airlines, who maintains some of the refinery so they don't have to update all of it to be EPA compliant but can still produce some jet fuel and some staples like gasoline and diesel, which they swap for jet fuel at tank farms closer to where they need it, saving on transport costs.

    The EPA won't allow refineries in New England because pollution from the rust belt used to be an issue when there were jobs there. As such, refineries can't be located further north than NY/NJ, which created a massive refining zone along the Delaware river, but now even keeping a tank farm is a massive permitting challenge, so the number of refiners, capacity of refiners, and oil storage has all been in general decline for the past 15 years.
    Oh, and just this morning, the auction for two large exploration leases in the Gulf of Mexico (and one in Alaska that is not valuable enough to be worth developing yet even with $5 gas out west) were cancelled by Brandon &co, who also are obligated to refill the strategic fuel reserve they depleted using fuel that will cost twice the price it did last year, which will drive up gas and diesel prices.

    So, entering into hurricane season, the Biden administration has done nothing to help, and a lot to harm.
    Don't forget to thank your local leftists for voting for all this.

  4. If there is going to be rationing of diesel in the northeast in the summer things are going to get REALLY ugly come October/November. The primary reason is that most residential and much commercial heating is using No. 2 fuel oil which is effectively diesel with a dye so if you use it in a road vehicle it is easily noted in the injectors and you can be charged with tax evasion.
    The reason for the use of Oil is in much of New England there are NO natural gas lines in many semi rural suburban towns and diesel/fuel oil was so cheap when folks started to convert from coal for central heat that gas didn't make sense except in densely populated areas. Electric heating is even worse as local electric is VERY expensive due both to the amount you need and the cost/KWH of electricity. All this stupid "green" energy isn't helping and the old Yankee Nuclear plants are all shut down, so only Pilgrim (MA), MillStone (CT) and Seabrook (NH) remain. And Pilgrim is reaching end of life Real Soon Now. Millstone and Seabrook are newer (late 70s/ early 80s) as they were some of the last Nuclear plants built but even their life expectancy is limited. As it was fuel oil was topping $4.50 a gallon (delivered) end of last winter, I'd expect it to go to $6-$8/gallon this winter if you can get it.

    There are going to be a lot of cold poor and elderly (and even blue collar) working folks this winter.

  5. While refining capacity is certainly a factor at the margin, it has absolutely nothing to do with the cause of the current situation. Diesel shortages are coming because the administration clown show is sending the East coast fuel to Europe because the EU has screwed itself by being dependent on Russia.
    Americans get to suffer so the European suicide is prolonged.

  6. I see $10 a gallon gas and $12.50 Diesel by the time Biden is out of office. He is going to totally fuck up our economy.

  7. Stuart, with respect, the current admin is not responsible for sending oil overseas- the market does that. Hard as that is to believe of a group that is F*cking up by the numbers these days in virtually everything, when the US became a net crude exporter after fracking ramped up, the Trump admin (rightfully at the time) opened up crude exports so that oil transport became a spot market, a web, rather than a linear liner service. The US is part of the global finished oils market, like it or not, and the EU's foolish habit of claiming to be greener by purchasing energy overseas rather than making their own now impinges on our own finished oils supply.

    Where I blame the current admin follows from there. In theory, we could solve this by next year by re-permitting domestic production and stopping the very illegal and immoral virtual ban on lending for small companies for energy development, so that the purposeful gap in midstream oilfield production can be filled up again. The global drilling majors and the global refiners are ready to work, but the thousands of little companies in the two dozen industries that fill in the gaps in between finding the oil and getting it to a refiner can't get a loan to build new equipment or maintain existing gear. It's so bad and blatant that even transport goons like me who turn wrenches and drive boats have to hear about it.

  8. Diesel or gasoline is NOT a choice at the refinery. There are two methods to use. The EU uses the version that produces more diesel than gasoline. We use the other one, so we get more gasoline and less diesel, since most non-commercial vehicles in the US run on gasoline. It's a percentage of each, not either/or.

    I'm unsure if the refineries can switch methods. I think they are built for the version that the country desires, and it may not be feasible to change it.

  9. Paul while the administration didn't send the oil overseas , they do have the authority to say "Our national security is at stake, we can't allow the export."

    A government that gave a bleep about its people would do that but again maybe they figure those states are too full of deplorables and poverty or starvation would help the regime.

    Beyond that, what happens if Russia stops playing nice and just says "no more fuel for Europe, forever." Its 20 billion out of a GDP of 1.4 trillion or so. It will hurt Russia but destroy Europe and possibly us as well.

    In not that long India and other places will gladly by it though China is kind of imploding.

  10. People have no clue about energy prices and their effect. It is not just diesel, though that runs deeper than you think. Seeds have to be grown, using diesel, and processed, and transported. All use energy. Then they have to be sown, and raised, and harvested, all using energy. Then they have to be transported, processed, transported, warehoused, transported, shelved, sold, bought and taked to where they are consumed, and every step requires energy. Look at the world energy budget and then look at standard of living. It correlates directly and closely. Groceries are going to be sky high by the end of the year….and next year will be worse….no matter what we do, because the costs are high now for next years crops….and will continue to rise, because no one seems to have noticed that the Biden administration just cancelled the sale of oil and gas leases in Alaska and the Gulf for this year.

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