CAMDEN, Ark. — Jimmy Quarels has driven a log truck through the winding dirt roads in the thick pinewoods of southern Arkansas for 20 years.
During that time, he has mostly had to foot the bill for fuel all on his own.
Lately, that bill has been getting higher and higher — by the hundreds of dollars each week.
“For the little man like me, it’s bad,” Quarels said. “It’s like everything else right now, there seems to be no send in sight. And what people don’t realize is that this trickles down. Your lumber prices affect your toilet paper, paper plates, pulp — so many things are going to go up because of this.”
The average price for a gallon of diesel across the U.S. sat at $5.16 per gallon on Tuesday, with the highest in California at $6.223 a gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration.
In March 2020 the national average price for diesel fuel was $2.85 per gallon, and it fell to less than $2.40 as COVID-19 restrictions reduced demand. By March 2021, the average gallon had risen to $3.07. In March 2022 it had risen to $5.25, an increase of more than 71%.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil for June delivery rose $3.16 to $101.70 a barrel Tuesday. Brent crude for June delivery rose $2.67 to $104.99 a barrel.
Crude oil is down more than $20 a barrel, or a decline of almost 20%, from its March peak.
But prices at the pumps still remain high.
The reasons are a complicated mix of global politics.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine hasn’t helped the global price of petroleum. Russia supplies roughly 11% of the world’s supply, competing with Saudi Arabia for second place (the U.S. is first). Sanctions designed to deter Russian aggression have pushed diesel prices higher.
The machines of war, including tanks, planes and ships, use incredible amounts of petroleum, further tightening world supply.
Additionally, demand has been growing faster than supply. It takes time to get drilling rigs out in the field, and it takes time to get the oil flowing.
For now, everyone, including truck drivers and trucking companies, are left biting the proverbial bullet. And if fuel prices remain high for an extended period of time, expect consumer prices to increase even more, industry insiders say.
“Look around your house or your office. Everything in it, from the food in your fridge to the chair you are sitting in, to the phone or tablet on which you may be reading this article, was brought by a trucker,” wrote Ron Faulkner, president of Faulkner Trucking and the 2022 president of the California Trucking Association, in a Tuesday opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee.
“More than 80% of all goods consumed by Californians are delivered exclusively by trucks. If you got it, a truck brought it. And despite much progress on alternative fuels, diesel still fuels 97% of the big rigs on the road today.”
Faulkner suggested that California temporarily halt the state’s fuel tax and use money from the general fund to help bolster programs funded by fuel taxes.
Several states have already suspended their fuel taxes in an effort to help prices at the pump.
“If truckers cannot afford to drive, then goods do not move,” Faulkner wrote. “We have seen what that looks like — shelves empty of paper products and stores running short of needed supplies and groceries.”
Back in Arkansas, where Quarles has lived all of his 53 years, Governor Asa Hutchinson has suggested he isn’t in favor of pausing the state’s fuel taxes. He said he’d rather cut checks to all residents out of a tax surplus fund.
“Someone’s gotta do something,” Quarles said. “This can’t last the way it is.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.