SOUTHERN COLORADO – What started in Pueblo, spread to Cañon City came to Colorado Springs over the weekend—dry pumps at several gas stations.
The problem, experts say, is not a shortage of gasoline, rather a shortage of truck drivers that was compounded by panic buying.
“People really do panic when there are essential goods that they need,” Tatiana Bailey, a Ph.D economist, and director of the UCCS Economic Forum said. “Which is very different than something that can be substituted. But, gasoline can’t be substituted all that easily or all that quickly.”
The issue started with routine maintenance done to a Magellan Midstream pipeline that delivers gasoline from the Denver Metro to Southern Colorado.
“It’s something that happens hundreds of times a year across Colorado, you almost never notice and in a typical year, you wouldn’t notice,” Skyler McKinley, the regional director of public affairs for AAA said.
It’s rarely noticed, McKinley said because when the pipeline goes down, the gasoline is delivered via semi-truck, but the shortage of drivers nationally delayed deliveries, leaving some pumps dry. AAA said people likely noticed the lack of gas at their regular spot to fill up and would have found gas if they drove around to other stations, or were willing to wait in line.
That was before the run began in Pueblo and Cañon City. With gas prices already high—a product that is in part due to a recovering economy and resurgence of travel—people are more sensitive to increases, according to Bailey.
“[We] don’t want to suddenly be spending a lot more so, there’s a psychological component of, ‘Maybe if I hurry up and buy a lot of this, I don’t need to be hit financially,” Bailey said.
McKineley says smaller communities are more vulnerable to volatility because, oftentimes, there are fewer suppliers, meaning more gas from fewer places, and more at the mercy of relatively smaller supply problems.
“Buy what you need and there’s plenty to of around. If you get selfish and fearful and buy more than what you need, then that takes it away from somebody else which creates more fear and more panic buying so it is very much a snake eating its own tail,” McKinley explained.
The volatility of the market has led to a “complex gas environment” as McKinley described it. At the start of the pandemic, more than a year ago, there was a glut in the oil market, too much supply for a demand that had dwindled in pandemic-related lockdowns.
From Bailey’s analysis, that could very well make people run from an unpredictable market, at least partially controlled by the countries supplying the commodity.
“There’s no question that people are thinking twice now about gasoline prices, their gasoline usage, and what are some alternatives that will leave them less vulnerable to the future to disruptions in gasoline supply and price increases,” she said. “Once you start talking about $3.00 per gallon, that’s exactly when people start talking more about alternative energy.