Some social media users are falsely suggesting the U.S. will run out of diesel fuel in 25 days.
A Nov. 4 Instagram post presents screenshots of multiple tweets. “BREAKING: According to the Energy Information Administration, the US only has 25 DAYS OF DIESEL SUPPLY LEFT,” reads a screenshot of one.
The post caption lays out what it claims that would look like: “Diesel Trucks can’t move, food shortage, water crisis, power grid affected, rolling blackouts and just in time for the Purge Laws to take effect in January when people have no heat, food, water, and/or evictions piling up.”
But the U.S. isn’t a month away from running out of diesel, experts say..
The most recent data at the time of the post showed that the U.S. had a “25.8 day supply” of “total distillate,” a petroleum category that includes diesel. That’s the lowest inventory since 1951, according to the EIA.
However, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. is going to run out in 25 days like the posts assert. This quantity is continually being replenished by ongoing production and imports.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the posts for comment.
EIA data doesn’t show that the US will run out of diesel in 25 days
The diesel claim surfaced on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Oct. 27.
“This country is about to run out of diesel fuel,” Carlson said. “According to data from the Energy Information Administration by the Monday of Thanksgiving week, that’s 25 days from now, there will be no more diesel. What’s going to happen then? Well, everything will stop. That means trucks and trains and barges all unable to move.”
Representatives for Fox News and “Tucker Carlson Tonight” did not respond to a request for comment.
Chris Higgenbotham, a spokesperson for the EIA, confirmed that “for the week ending October 28 … our data show the United States has 25.8 days of supply of distillate fuel in storage.” (That figure rose slightly to 26.6 days as of Nov. 11.)
But that figure does not mean the U.S. will run out of fuel in 25 days – or that the U.S. is at risk of running out of fuel at all – according to energy experts.
That’s because the “days of supply” metric only measures the amount of distillate in storage compared to estimates of national demand. The figure does not consider distillate fuel that will continue to be produced at U.S. refineries and imported from other countries throughout the week.
The claim that the U.S. is at risk of running out of diesel fuel takes the EIA figure “drastically out of context,” according to Patrick De Haan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.
“We are not an imminent case of seeing every station across the country run out of fuel,” he said.
Experts said that it’s important to not look at these kinds of figures in isolation, but instead to look at overall trends in the data. According to De Haan, a number in the high twenties to high thirties is “typical for this time of year.”
Ed Hirs, an energy fellow and lecturer at the University of Houston, compared the “days of supply” figure to the amount of milk or bread at a grocery store.
“A grocery store has a day or two supply of bread which is continually replenished,” Hirs said. “The entire economy kind of operates like this low inventory model. It costs a lot of money to keep inventory.”
But that low inventory doesn’t mean that a grocery store will run out of milk – or that the U.S. will run out of fuel, Hirs said. That’s because the supply of fuel is continually replenished by refineries and imports throughout the week.
EIA Administrator Joe DeCarolis said there’s no current risk of trucks and trains grinding to a halt.
“The distillate fuels in storage aren’t the only source of diesel we have to keep trucks and trains moving,” DeCarolis said in a recent EIA press release. “But lower-than-average storage levels will contribute to higher costs for diesel and for heating fuels through the winter.”
Both De Haan and Hirs noted that the war in Ukraine and the pandemic have been key drivers of the amount of fuel in U.S. reserves.
“There is very little presidential policy, if any, that is having a key role on fuel prices and fuel availability,” De Haan said. “This is borne out of how businesses have had to respond to challenging times during COVID.”
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the U.S. will run out of diesel fuel in 25 days. The figure cited isn’t a finite amount, it’s a supply that is continually replenished by production and imports. The 25 days of distillate in storage is typical for this time of year, experts say.
Our fact-check sources:
- Chris Higgenbotham, Nov. 8, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Patrick De Haan, Nov. 9, Phone interview with USA TODAY
- Ed Hirs, Nov. 10, Phone interview with USA TODAY
- Fisher Investments, Nov. 4, Putting America’s Diesel Situation Into Perspective
- Fox News, Oct. 27, TUCKER CARLSON: Thanks to Biden’s religious war in Ukraine, the US is about to run out of diesel fuel
- Ian Sue Wing, Nov. 8, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Politifact, Nov. 7, Tucker Carlson misrepresents data to claim the US will run out of diesel fuel by Thanksgiving
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, Nov. 8, EIA expects continued high prices for diesel and home heating oils
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, accessed Nov. 10, Definitions, Sources and Explanatory Notes
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, accessed Nov. 10, Weekly U.S. Days of Supply of Total Distillate
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, accessed Nov. 10, 4-Week Avg U.S. Imports of Distillate Fuel Oil, 4-Week Avg U.S. Refiner Net Production of Distillate
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, accessed Nov. 10
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By Isabella Fertel, USA TODAY