Driver shortages and high demand send fuel prices soaring as local supply wanes
Colorado has seen a shortage of fuel truck drivers since the pandemic, leaving certain regions with limited gas supplies and rising prices amid a busy holiday weekend.
Some gas stations in Summit County have only diesel fuel available, including Exxon in Frisco and City Market in Breckenridge, which has been out of gasoline since at least Friday, July 2. Other gas stations, like the City Market in Dillon, were low on gasoline Tuesday, July 6, with only premium available at some pumps.
Jessica Trowbridge, spokesperson for King Soopers and City Market, wrote in an email Tuesday that there are multiple factors contributing to the shortage, “including carrier capacity issues, spot outages and extended wait times.” She said City Market is currently working to resolve the issue.
Skyler McKinley, a spokesperson with AAA Colorado, said these aren’t full-blown gasoline shortages, rather hiccups that can be expected throughout the summer season.
“Each time we hear about a service station running out of gas, we check and there’s generally service stations nearby that can provide gas, and generally fuel deliveries are made, although there’s some delays,” McKinley said.
McKinley said this can mostly be attributed to the shortage of drivers following the pandemic. When the gasoline market tanked in March 2020, many truck drivers had to search for new jobs and didn’t return. McKinley said he’s seen some businesses trying to bring drivers back with incentives up to $10,000.
He added that since there are only a few service stations in Summit County, it can be harder for branches to sustain the need with a large intake of visitors, as was the case for Fourth of July weekend. Oftentimes in smaller areas, McKinley said gas stations will share a master contract for fuel delivery, leading to shortages at more than one station.
“This is why when one service station runs out, you might see another nearby, they probably have shared the fuel delivery to some extent to simplify costs,” McKinley said. “There’s also not a lot of economic muscle in counties that don’t have a ton of service stations to negotiate these contracts.”
Greg Fulton, president and CEO of Colorado Motor Carriers Association, said the idea of a gas shortage can sometimes lead to one as folks panic and fill up their tanks. He compared it to the toilet paper shortage at the start of the pandemic.
He emphasized that there is not one factor to blame for fuel availability issues, though.
Fulton agreed that the influx of visitors and increased demand contributed to the issue, noting that this was one of the first big holidays where people were able to celebrate in person after the pandemic.
“Everything’s trying to build back up after the pandemic, and it’s going to take time,” Fulton said.
Grier Bailey, executive director of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, said a shortage of a specific type of fuel added to the strain on the industry, as well.
In order to keep the state in environmental compliance, Bailey said drivers had to take longer trips to get a supply of the 7.8 reid vapor pressure fuel, which is required in certain regions along the Front Range. That further exacerbated the need for drivers qualified to transport hazardous materials.
“We’re struggling in that we’re a responsible industry, and we don’t want to jeopardize the safety of other motorists by straining our drivers or having tired drivers drive 8,000 gallons of fuel around,” Bailey said.
Bailey also emphasized that there is not a gasoline shortage and discouraged folks from “panic buying” fuel. He said it is simply a logistical supply chain issue that will work itself out over the next few days.
Until then, fuel prices have spiked. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, mid-grade gas prices in Colorado have increased by 50 cents per gallon in the past two months with premium gasoline now over $4 per gallon in many areas.
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