Fire season and pandemic travel contribute to fuel shortage | State


SHERIDAN – For 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global supply chains, affecting everything from toilet paper to gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel.

The demand for fuel has increased as many Americans take road trips this summer. Additionally, an early fire season led to an increase in fire suppression efforts, which also impacted demand for various fuels in the western United States, according to Governor Mark Gordon’s office.

And if the state sees a blaze the size of the 2020 Mullen blaze in southeastern Wyoming – approximately 176,877 acres and the largest blaze in Wyoming history – fire suppression efforts will require a large amount of fuel.

“The fuel shortage stems from several factors,” said Robert Godby, associate professor at the University of Wyoming in the economics department. “This is a case of supply chain issues. There is a shortage of drivers, so trucks do not go to airports to deliver fuel, especially those that are far from pipelines. This, coupled with above average travel demand this summer, has led to a problem. “

The real problem, he said, is not so much a fuel shortage itself, but a shortage of capacity to meet the demand for fuel delivery to airports.

“Ironically, in many places across the country we have a surplus of jet fuel, as the increased refining of gasoline to meet demand has led to the production of jet fuel as a by-product at a rate that exceeds demand. air travel, which is still depressed in places, “he said.” In the west, however, demand has been increased by summer travel. “

The wildfire season has also exacerbated the need for jet fuel in the summer, as it is needed for fire suppression efforts, he said.

Proactive measures in Wyoming have kept the interagency firefighting community operating during the summer heat, other officials say. In mid-July, Gordon’s office signed a temporary executive order to help alleviate fuel shortages, putting in place temporary emergency rules for the Wyoming Department of Transportation allowing drivers to make deliveries of additional fuel until August 20.

Brian Olsen, director of WYDOT’s aviation divisions, said he started hearing rumors about fuel shortages in the Rocky Mountain region a month ago.

“Over the past two to three weeks, we have been monitoring the situation, contacting public and state-used airports to monitor their fuel supply,” he said. “I will say the fuel supply in Wyoming over the past two or three weeks has been pretty tight.”

There were a few Wyoming airports that ran out of fuel for an intermittent period in July, he said.

“Currently, as far as I know, all airports have fuel. That’s the good news, ”said Olsen.

It would be speculative to draw a direct line from the governor’s order, which allows flexibility in fuel delivery, to improvement, but there has been one nonetheless in the last few days, Olsen said.

“There are no airports that do not have fuel, and we have had several that were out of order. We have seen fuel being delivered to airports, which is very helpful, ”he said.

The emergency rule suspends driving hours regulations to allow drivers to meet increased fuel demand, but still says drivers can’t be on the road when tired. Fuel delivery companies are specifically urged to take extra precautions to ensure the safety of the public and drivers.

The order applies specifically to drivers bringing gasoline, diesel, or aviation fuel into Wyoming or making deliveries within the state. The order also aligns Wyoming with other surrounding states, which have implemented similar executive orders.

Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser said that kind of fuel shortage during fire season is abnormal.

“This is the first time that I know we’ve ever had a fuel shortage,” Crapser said. “Like everything else over the past 18 months, it’s a supply chain issue. And it’s not just Wyoming that has the problem. … California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, all of these states are in trouble and are watching this very closely.

Wyoming State Fire Marshal Mike Reed said his office greatly appreciates the “governor’s timely work on this matter.” Since his organization is investigating fires in municipalities, a shortage is expected to be very severe to affect local fire departments, but he recognizes the need to suppress wildfires.

“Other states are having difficulty with the fuel supply and it is of the utmost importance that these fuel supplies be available in Wyoming,” said Reed. “It’s really more critical for the air services involved and the distances to be covered for forestry. It was the proper decision Governor Gordon made to ensure that these services are available.

Crapser said his office was working closely with the interagency firefighting community and state aviation contractors to monitor the situation. The Wyoming State Forestry Division has one helicopter and two single-mechanic tankers on contract.

“These two entrepreneurs have tankers, so they have some of their own fuel, but they still have to buy it from airports when they need it,” he said.

Regarding the interagency firefighting community as a whole, Crapser said that many agencies have made sure the airports they fly to and depart from have fuel for their heavy helicopters and large tank planes. .

“It’s a joint effort for everyone, with the governor’s decree and everything WYDOT is doing, to make sure there is fuel,” he said. “I think it’s going to balance out. Where that would be a problem would be if there was a lot of activity in a very small airport, and you could stretch that fuel supply very quickly pretty quickly. “

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