Gas Shortages: Lessons from Mexico to the U.S. - My Patriot Supply
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Gas Shortages: What Current and Past Crises Teach Us

January 25, 2019 0 Comments

The health of our economy is dependent on a variety of factors, one of which is transportation. And what resource do our transport systems primarily depend on? 

You guessed it...gasoline. When you stop to think about it, this is unsettling because our access to gas is dependent on additional factors that are largely out of our control

From unrest in the Middle East and stallings in trade deals, to natural disasters and political decision-making, there’s a lot that can stand in the way of accessing gas at your local station. 

Because it’s important to prepare for a wide range of worst-case scenarios, it’s worth learning from the past and gaining insights as to how to prepare. Read on to discover historical cases of gas shortages and how to prepare for a future crisis that you and your family could face... 

From the Mexican Gas Crisis to Hurricane Harvey 

Over the course of the last month, people in Mexico have experienced diminished access to gasoline. Various stations are being closed, and those that are open have hours-long waits to fill up tanks. In late December, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shut down six major pipelines in the country in an effort to combat fuel theft that’s costing the state-run gas company, Pemex, an estimated $3 billion in 2018 alone. 

The shutdown was abrupt and lacked an effective alternate distribution plan. At the moment, the affected areas are receiving gas via trucks and tankers escorted by armed police, but it’s a slower and much costlier alternative. 

Nine Mexican states are affected, with a wide range of negative consequences. Aside from gas lines snaking around the block and down the street, people have a harder time getting to work, or can’t go at all. Many businesses have had to temporarily close down because neither employees nor customers can make it to the establishment. 

If the situation persists longer term, there could be disruptions in the supply chain, resulting in economic losses for businesses. Essentially, if goods cannot be transported, businesses will have nothing to sell, and they won’t be able to employ their staff. Whatever items are available will be very expensive. 

Although this case is specific to Mexico (right now), the threat of a gas shortage and crisis still lingers in the United States. 

Americans faced two separate oil crises in the 1970s, first in 1973, and then again in 1979. In 1973, people faced recurring shortages because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, placed an oil embargo on the United States due to its support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. 

As The Atlantic shared, “After the sanctions, the price of gasoline increased by 37 percent. But more than that, its supply became severely limited. Rationing and long lines for gas were common at stations.” 

In both situations, drivers frequently faced around-the-block lines when they tried to fill up, and 0dd-even rationing was introduced. This meant that if the last digit on your license plate was odd, you could get gas only on odd-numbered days. Thievery was common, and stations were forced to frequently lock their pumps. 

More recently, residents in the Northeast and Texas faced gas shortages after Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Harvey, respectively. After Hurricane Sandy, odd-even rationing was utilized in New Jersey and New York. 

As USA Today reported after Harvey, “Panicking motorists are lining up at gasoline stations throughout central and north Texas, causing sporadic fuel shortages after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the region's energy distribution network.” 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 30% of the nation’s refining capacity was knocked out after the storm. Dozens of gas stations had to shut down temporarily as they waited for new supplies in cities across Texas. 

Whether man-made or due to a natural disaster, a gas shortage can occur at any time. How you and your family will fare depends on your level of preparedness, and thinking through the “what ifs” in advance. 

Which brings me to my next point... 

How to Prepare for a Gas Shortage 

Fortunately, the United States isn’t facing a fuel theft like Mexico, and our access to gasoline is safe for the foreseeable future. That said, we’re never fully immune to the threat of a gas shortage, and it’s always smart to take steps to prepare. One look at Venezuela, where gas was cheap and plentiful a decade ago, demonstrates how quickly things can change. 

The first step is realizing that we cannot rely on the government to help us when these things happen--look at the government shutdown currently happening here the U.S. If you truly want to be prepared for a worst-case scenario, it’s important to take matters into your own hands. 

Here are a few suggestions to ensure you’re ready... 

Stock up on food and supplies: Our entire economy is based on fuel. If the transportation system grinds to a halt, so too will our economy. Make sure your family is well-stocked on food, medicine, food storage solutions, water, water purifiers, and more. 

Maintain a backup supply of gas: As a basic principle, never allow your car’s gas tank to drop below half full in order to avoid long lines at gasoline stations. And in the case of a shortage, you’ll want to have a supply of gas on hand for emergency transportation. 

Keep the following in mind if you plan to store gasoline… 

  • First things first--if you’re going to store gas, be sure to use caution as it’s flammable. For example, never smoke anywhere near where fuel is handled.
  • For safety reasons, The National Fire Protection Association proposes a storage limit of 25 gallons. But depending on where you live, the law could be different. Before you stockpile gasoline, call your local fire department to learn more about the local fire codes regarding gasoline stockpiling.
  • Gas must be stored in an approved fuel can or tank--usually 5 gallons or less. Approved containers will have a label noting that it meets specifications for portable containers for petroleum products.
  • Since gas expands, be sure to leave some room in the container.
  • Keep gas containers tightly sealed and handle them gently to avoid spills.
  • Store gas at room temperature, away from potential heat sources such as the sun, a hot water heater, a space heater, or a furnace.
  • Stored gas should be kept at least 50 feet away from ignition sources (e.g., pilot lights) and in a detached shed or garage.
  • To play it safe, don’t keep gasoline for more than a year.

Learn to produce what you need to survive: Oftentimes, we’re too reliant on external systems to get what we need. As a backup solution, it’s handy to know how to homestead, garden, sprout, raise small livestock, preserve food, sew, hunt, and build. Having these skills will ensure you and your family will fare better in case of economic collapse.

Don’t wait until the last minute: If you’ve waited until there’s already panic--with long lines at gas stations, empty tanks, supplies rapidly disappearing, you’ve waited too long. Take the time now to stock up on the essentials and learn the skills necessary for survival. 

Our modern society is (too) heavily reliant upon gasoline, and it’s important to think through what steps you’d take to protect your family and ensure you continue to live comfortably despite a disruption in access. 

Have a great weekend and stay alert, friends! 

In liberty,
Grant Miller
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply


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