Fuel Haulers Could See Driver Shortage (Republished from OPIS Oil Express)

Reprinted with permission of OPIS (Oil Price Information Service) By IHS Markit. For more information on OPIS products and services, visit www.opisnet.com or call 888.301.2645.

In recent years, the commercial driver shortage has been a top concern for the transportation business overall. But with fuel demand plummeting, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis could make that shortage especially acute for fuel haulers.

Stay-at-home orders designed to curb the spread of the pandemic have increased demand for deliveries of online orders and groceries, while fuel deliveries are down.

As a result, some tank truck carriers are shifting their drivers to pull loads for other industries where demand is greatest, such as groceries. And some transportation firms told OPIS they have placed a hiring freeze on fuel tanker drivers.

“This is translating into massive revenue declines for carriers who specialize in fuel. It’s harder to keep good tank truck drivers when there’s no business and the unemployment checks exceed compensation at this moment during the crisis,” said Dan Furth, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC). “In addition, it’s difficult to get your hazmat endorsement renewed with all of the state DMVs closed. New hires who do not yet have their HMEs (hazmat endorsements) have a greater problem.”

Furth also is concerned that tank truck drivers will be unavailable if natural disaster strikes. With fuel truck drivers redirected to other industries or furloughed, the crisis could be compounded in the event of a hurricane, for example.

“We only have about two days of fuel supply in the gas stations, so when they turn the economy back on, we will all likely face fuel shortages and runs on gas stations as we typically see in natural disasters,” he also said. “The capacity crunch will exacerbate that shortage.”

The NTTC is lobbying Congress to allow large fuel haulers and other big trucking firms to access loans similar to those provided for the airline and hospitality industries, Furth said. The NTTC also joined the International Liquid Terminals Association to ask Congress to provide hazard pay for the fuel storage and transportation industries.

Groendyke Transportation, which has 1,000 tankers operating out of 15 states, delivers to the Lower 48 states, as well as Canada and Mexico. The company has seen a sharp decrease in load count, according to Holly McCormick, vice president of the talent office.

In response to the decline in fuel demand, Groendyke has shifted some of its drivers to pulling vans for large logistics companies such as J.B. Hunt Transport. The diversified company cross-trains its fuel tank drivers to haul chemicals and has moved some drivers over to its chemical division to keep them on the road.

“It’s a temporary way to keep drivers rolling. We have the luxury of diversity,” said McCormick. “On the chemical side of our business loads are increasing, as you can imagine, for things like hand sanitizer.” Harris Martin, an area sales director with carrier Kenan Advantage Group Inc., of North Canton, Ohio, said the company has removed some drivers from fuel-hauling to transport groceries. Kenan has shifted to “power-only” shipping – providing just a driver and a tractor – to other companies to move their goods.

“Volume is down, and we are not hauling as much fuel,” Martin said. “We are just trying to keep everyone employed.”

Ports Petroleum in Newell, W.V., recently received only two job applications from truckers. In better times, the company sees 10-30 per month, said Dan Geraghty, director of field operations. Geraghty told OPIS that his company has stopped accepting applications because of COVID-19. Some of the mentoring and training for new hires would
take place in the cab, where it is impossible to follow social distancing restrictions.They also would be unable to get hazmat materials endorsements because motor vehicle departments are closed. And some candidates would be leery of obtaining a medical certification fearing exposure to the virus.

But he said it’s still strange to receive just two applications. “I would presume it is because people are in lockdown mode,” said Geraghty. “I don’t know what it is – it’s like someone turned off the spigot. There is a lot of fearmongering going on. There’s a part of society that is still moving and operating and we need employees.”
Donna Harris, dharris@opisnet.com