City of Cincinnati rationing diesel across all departments, including essential services

The city manager cites a choking supply chain and an industry-wide labor shortage.
Photo: Cincinnati Fire Department Facebook page/file
Photo: Cincinnati Fire Department Facebook page/file
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 9:16 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX/Enquirer) - City services are at risk due to a slow-down in the supply chain that provides the City of Cincinnati with diesel fuel.

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething published a memo this week (below) alerting the mayor and council members to the issue. The services impacted include:

  • Cincinnati Fire Department emergency response vehicles;
  • Water and sewer repair and maintenance services;
  • Snow removal vehicles;
  • Garbage collection vehicles; and
  • Machinery for essential road repairs.

The city’s emergency diesel reserve is 25 percent below normal levels.

Traditionally the reserve is enough to provide a month of essential services, but that timeframe, according to the memo, does not account for services needed in the event of snow or flooding.

All city departments were asked to take the following steps to “conserve the city’s diesel fuel supply” immediately upon receipt of the memo:

  • The use of diesel fuel related to any parks and recreation functions must be discontinued unless it impacts healthy and safety;
  • Stop all non-essential travel in vehicles that use diesel fuel; and
  • Consolidate crews in fewer vehicles or utilize non-diesel vehicles for any essential transport.

The city’s diesel comes from a multi-state distribution network. Over the last two weeks, according to the memo, major disruptions in that network have created supply shocks in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana.

Per the memo, two Ohio refineries simultaneously decided to perform preventative maintenance, causing the refineries to slow or stop production.

“While preventative maintenance is a routine occurrence typically performed on a yearly or bi-yearly basis, concurrent shutdowns at these refineries are unprecedented and were unexpected,” Muething wrote.

Muething also cites an “industry-wide labor shortage” that has exacerbated supply chain pressure and impacted the cost of fuel.

Thomas Balzer, president and CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association, which represents more than 800 trucking companies, told our media partners at the Enquirer it’s a “precarious situation.”

Balzer said he’s read social media accounts of fuel shortages in parts of Ohio and some truck stops even limiting diesel fuel purchases to 60 or 80 gallons per truck. “That might sound like a lot to you and me, but for a truck driver that’s nothing,” he said.

Balzer said he hasn’t seen evidence of widespread fuel shortages resulting from the shutdowns — at least not yet. He contended the larger issue could be a shortage of tanker drivers who deliver diesel fuel from the refineries to retail fueling stations.

“The diesel industry is feeling the same issues as everyone else,’’ he said. “We have a shortage of drivers and high demand for our product. [....] If you can’t get the tanker moving, you’re not going to be able to deliver the fuel.”

The city anticipates production will resume to normal by the end of the year.

The administration will continue to search for “alternative distribution options,” Muething’s memo says.

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