In her weekly column, Nancy Churchill discusses how a possible shortage of DEF could bring the trucking industry to its knees
Do you know what diesel exhaust fluid is? On the retail market, it’s known as AdBlue. Are you aware that a possible shortage of this important product could bring the trucking industry to its knees? Just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse, here’s the thing that could crash the entire U.S. economy. What’s going on?
On May 25, Ken Cameron posted an article on LinkedIn titled “Will our economy fail because of DEF?’’ He explained that “Every Diesel truck that has been made since 2010 is required to use it (DEF). It is a product made of 33% Urea fertilizer and 67% distilled water. Every diesel truck you see driving down the road today must have this product to drive. The engines will not run without it.” The bottom line is that freight won’t move without DEF.
You can probably already guess why this might be a problem. Natural gas is the key raw material in urea production. Urea is primarily exported by Russia, Qatar, and China. Like fertilizer, DEF is made with urea and the United States imports most of the urea it uses. The United States depends on other countries to eat, drive, and transport our products.
The next part of the DEF puzzle has to do with a dispute between Union Pacific Railroad and the Pilot/Flying J Corporation. If you’ve ever done a long road trip, you’ve probably stopped at a Flying J travel center. Flying J “is one of the leading suppliers of fuel and is the largest operator of travel centers in North America.” Flying J sells 30 percent of ALL the DEF consumed in the United States.
According to Ken Cameron’s excellent article, Flying J gets seventy percent of its DEF via Union Pacific Railroad. Due to distribution points controlled by Union Pacific, Flying J cannot go to another supplier. Union Pacific is in control. In April, Union Pacific told Flying J to reduce its shipments of DEF by 50 percent, or else they would be embargoed, which would effectively bankrupt Flying J.
The reason for this ultimatum is unclear, and according to the testimony by Flying J CEO Shameek Konar to the Surface Transportation Board, may be due to a misunderstanding between the two corporations. Unfortunately, Union Pacific Railroad has not been responding to the Flying J’s requests for more information on the unusual demand to cut shipments.
If this ultimatum is enforced, Union Pacific’s restrictions on Flying J will cause shortages, since this would cut the national supply of DEF by 15 percent. In his testimony, Mr. Konar explained that a single rail car provides 3000 trucks worth of DEF fills (2.7 gal DEF/ per 100 gal of diesel). Every missed rail car will reduce trucking potential by 5 million miles!
A friend of mine in the trucking industry has confirmed for me that this possible DEF shortage is a big deal. The trucks won’t move without DEF. And, while it might be physically possible to disconnect the regulator, any operator would face fines and other possible penalties if caught doing such a thing.
The shortage of DEF is also a global problem, not just a United States problem. Because of this, the urea fertilizer shortage will not resolve quickly, and it is going to impact both food production and the transportation sector. These shortages will drive inflation even higher.
What can we do with this information? Food supply chains are a concern, so prepare now for shortages later this year. If you have a diesel rig that needs DEF to move, you will need to have some backup supplies of DEF.
I’m concerned about the DEF supplies needed to keep our water tankers and other fire fighting equipment running as we approach fire-fighting season in Washington state. I hope our fire departments will take action now to secure a supply of DEF for the summer.
Within the United States, it would make a lot of sense to ramp up the production of natural gas, and encourage companies to begin production of urea fertilizer. It’s crazy to be dependent on other nations for a product that is essential to both food production and transportation.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration appears to be very hostile towards the production of natural gas in the United States. Does it want to crash the economy on purpose? Another possible solution would be to temporarily lift the requirement to use DEF until the shortage of urea has been resolved.
For this issue, concerned citizens will be most effective by reaching out to the federal level of government. Call or write to both of your U.S. Senators and your Representative. The 5th Congressional District’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers is the Republican Leader on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Please write to her with your concerns about this issue.
Don’t shrug and ignore this problem with Diesel Exhaust Fluid. You’ve been warned. Share this information, plan ahead and reach out to your elected officials. Be ready for hard times, and pray for our nation. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.
Nancy Churchill is the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.