Some Denver Gas Stations Have Been Running Short of Fuel

A fuel pump at a Sinclair Oil Corp. gas station in Denver
A fuel pump at a Sinclair Oil Corp. gas station in Denver in March. (Chet Strange/Bloomberg News)

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Dozens of gasoline stations in Denver and southern Colorado ran dry last weekend as a shortage of truck drivers and pipeline work delayed fuel supplies.

“It was enough of an outage to be a thing,” said J. Skyler McKinney, regional public affairs director for the American Automobile Association in Colorado, with the pinch tightest in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and a small part of Denver. “Drivers might find that their favorite station is empty, but if they are willing to drive a few miles to find another station, or wait a few days, they should be fine.”

The supply chain kink reveals the difficulty of Big Oil’s rapid return from the pandemic energy slump. Gasoline demand is getting closer to 2019 levels, signaling a robust call for more fuel from the millions of consumers who skipped travel last year and worked from home. Denver has been a strong source of gasoline demand in the pandemic recovery because it’s an attractive destination for travelers.

Many Colorado stations were being refilled June 21 and large retailers were able to keep tanks full by paying more for wholesale gasoline, McKinney said in an interview, adding that the fundamentals of the state’s gasoline market “are fine.” The average retail price for Colorado gasoline rose 8 cents in the last week to top $3.30 a gallon, while the national price was relatively unchanged at $3.07 a gallon, the auto club said on its website.

The situation became tense at J.R.’s Country Store in Pueblo, when a Saturday delivery of 3,000 gallons to the gas station lasted only a few hours. Employees had to direct customers through a traffic jam outside the store, and some drivers cut each other off in attemps to get to the pumps.

“They were trying to pump gas before we had put the gas in,” clerk Ledacee Saes said in an interview. “As much gas as we used that day, is usually what we go through in a week.”

Colorado’s gasoline supply was already tight before the shortages. Rocky Mountains stockpiles were at a seasonal six-year low earlier this month, Energy Information Administration data show. Phillips 66 reversed a pipeline earlier this year to move more Texas-made fuel there.

McKinney said recent pipeline work was another factor behind the shortage in Colorado, which is supplied mostly by Denver-area and Wyoming refineries and fuel piped from the Midwest. The Magellan pipeline system was working on maintenance until a restart June 19 on conduits into the Aurora, Dupont and Fountain areas, spokesman Bruce Heine said. Supplies to the region were meeting customer needs June 21, he said.

The maintenance worsened a supply crunch set off by a trucker shortage. Retailers across the U.S., including Walmart Inc. and Kroger Co., have been struggling to fill trucking jobs committed to fuel deliveries.

A fuel tanker like those crossing Colorado hauls about 8,000 to 10,000 gallons, enough to fill up about 400 empty Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

— With assistance from Ari Hawkins.

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