This story has been updated with new information
The temporary closure of two major oil refineries in Ohio has the potential to disrupt Christmas supplies and cause fuel shortages in several states at a time when consumers are already being hammered by high gasoline prices.
Husky Marketing and Supply Co. in Lima and another refinery operated by Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Co., recently shut down for preventative maintenance at about the same time, according to a city Cincinnati memo obtained by The Enquirer.
The refineries distill crude oil for gasoline, diesel and other products and supply large parts of Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana.
The Lima refinery will maintain limited production during the temporary shutdown, officials said.
“The planning of this major maintenance program began more than a year ago. Under such planned maintenance programs, the company is developing supply plans to meet its obligations,” said spokesman Reg Curren.
The refinery’s managers for the Marathon factory could not be reached for comment despite repeated calls.
The supply of diesel fuel seems to be the biggest concern for many of their end users, including trucking companies that rely on diesel for fuel for their semi-vehicles and municipalities that use diesel for fuel for emergency vehicles.
At least one major city, Cincinnati, is already warning department heads to save on diesel fuel used to provide emergency services, such as garbage and snow removal, as supplies of fuel for essential services run out.
Fuel shortages can disrupt Christmas deliveries and holiday travel
Experts say maintenance stops are routine, but they typically do not occur at the same time, especially close to the holiday season, when the demand for fuel from travelers and truck drivers pulling freight is high.
“If you do not get here early and early, and I mean early, you will catch hell by trying to fill up your tank because there are so many drivers out here now,” said Kamal Butz, who drives the semi. for J & R Schugel Trucking in Columbus.
Butz filled up around noon. 7 Thursday at the diesel fuel terminal at the TA Travel Center just off Interstates 71/75 in Florence, Kentucky. He said he was on his way back to Columbus from Georgia, where he picked up a load of clothes for delivery to a warehouse.
So far, Butz said he has not encountered fuel shortages or rationing at the gas stations he normally uses in Ohio or Kentucky.
Pilot Co. – which operates a network of Pilot Flying J travel centers in the Cincinnati metro area – has, however, reported “temporary diesel interruptions” in parts of Ohio, and officials there are keeping a close eye on the situation.
“Like other fuel retailers, we see limited capacity in some markets due to extremely tight diesel supply conditions, particularly in the Columbus, Ohio market region. We are working to manage demand across our stores in the surrounding areas to maintain consistent diesel supply to our customers and guests. At present, all of our travel centers are open, but selected locations may experience temporary diesel outages until the supply situation improves, ” said Brad Jenkins, senior vice president of supply and distribution for Pilot, in a statement.
Butz shudders at the thought of what might happen if fuel becomes completely unavailable.
“Everything would come to a standstill. All those trucks you see out here would just be stranded,” Butz said, waving his hand at the large selection of at least 100 trucks parked by or passing through the travel center’s fuel terminal.
Thomas Balzer, president and CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association, which represents more than 800 trucking companies, said he has read social media reports of fuel shortages in parts of Ohio, and some truck stops even limit diesel purchases to 60 or 80 gallons per gallon. .
“It may sound like a lot to you and me, but for a truck driver, it’s nothing,” Balzer told an Enquirer reporter, referring to the rumored rationing.
But while Balzer described the refinery’s shutdowns as “a precarious situation,” he said he has not seen evidence of widespread fuel shortages as a result of the shutdowns – at least not yet.
“There’s a lot of talk online about supply issues, but I’m not quite sure why,” he said. “No one has come to me and said they are struggling to find fuel.”
Balzer said the lack of tanker drivers supplying diesel from refineries to retail gas stations could be a bigger factor in supply chain disruptions than the actual supply of fuel.
“The diesel industry has the same problems as everyone else,” he said. “We have a shortage of drivers and a great demand for our product.
“If you can not get the tanker running, you will not be able to deliver the fuel,” he said.
Steve Hightower, president and CEO of Hightowers Petroleum Co., a major fuel supplier based in Middletown, Ohio, warns his customers to save fuel while he waits for the Husky and Marathon refineries to come online again.
Hightower said limited production from the Husky and Marathon refineries as well as fuel from other refineries allow suppliers to keep up with demand. But the temporary shutdowns are taking their toll, he said.
“Since they’re both big manufacturers, it’s just a lot of fuel from the market,” Hightower said. “It’s a short-term problem that is likely to correct itself within the next 30 days.”
Meanwhile: “Our job is to keep them (customers) wet, but warn them about where they can cut back (on fuel) and help us get through this period together,” he said.
Earlier this month, Hightower urged one of its biggest customers, the city of Cincinnati, to take steps to save on diesel used to provide important urban services.
As a result, Cincinnati park administrators have been asked to stop using diesel fuel related to park-and-recreation functions unless those functions affect health and safety, according to a memo issued Monday by City Manager Paula Boggs Muething.
In addition, all city departments have been ordered to stop unnecessary travel in vehicles that use diesel fuel and consolidate crews in fewer vehicles or use non-diesel vehicles for critical transportation, the memo said.
“The city has been informed that the preventive maintenance currently underway at the refineries typically takes 30 days to complete, and that should really end the week after Thanksgiving,” Boggs Muething said in a statement. “At that time, we expect our supply to start to increase. The strategic measures we are taking to save diesel fuel are necessary to prioritize services that affect health and safety; however, there is no reason for residents to be alerted. . ”
The city has enough reserves to maintain about three weeks of municipal services that require the use of diesel, according to the memo.
But it does not include the extra fuel that may be needed in the event of a snowstorm, flood or other emergency, and the city’s emergency supply of diesel is about 25% below normal levels for this time of year, the memo said.
The city uses diesel fuel to power many of the vehicles needed in an emergency, including fire trucks and emergency vehicles; garbage trucks and road maintenance vehicles, including snow plows.