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Brian Stoufer

Sr. Director of Transportation

Conagra Foods

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The Latest From the Breakthrough Blog

Check out our blog for updates about trends in the transportation industry, fuel management, and supply chain transportation optimization.

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Market Events
May 11, 2021
Colonial Pipeline Cyberattack Brings Uncertainty to Southeastern U.S. | Advisor Pulse
5.14.2021

Colonial Pipeline Company’s afternoon press release on May 13 confirmed the entire pipeline system was operating and product delivery was underway in all markets from Texas to New Jersey. The company continues to warn of potential service interruptions as the pipeline ramps up but plans to move as much fuel as possible before flows return to normal in the coming days. The image below highlights the pipeline’s most recent status.

Source: Colonial Pipeline Co.

Some states are still navigating fuel shortages—primarily gasoline—that were worsened by consumers flocking to stations in fear of a long-term outage. That said, the pipeline’s progressive return to full capacity will ease the supply pressures that have unraveled since late last week. Exact timing will hinge on Colonial Pipeline Company’s safety precautions. Additionally, downstream logistical dynamics of getting products from the pipeline to storage terminals to stations will dictate when the outage is no longer a concern. Market sentiment suggests that time will come over the weekend, but we will reassess the pipeline’s status on Monday and determine any lingering diesel price affects.

How Have Wholesale Diesel Prices Responded to the Colonial Pipeline Outage So Far?

The Colonial Pipeline disruption reinforced the vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure, the interconnectedness of the energy supply chain, and diesel’s uniqueness compared to what is typically tied up in news headlines. That said, diesel prices have been relatively protected from the surge in gasoline demand earlier this week. This has ultimately made the diesel price response more directly tied to the actual supply ramifications of the pipeline outage, as opposed to the added pressures of panic buying that has occurred in the gasoline market.

The announcement of the pipeline’s restart helped push both national and regional diesel prices down considerably yesterday. North Carolina continues to lead the charge in terms of its diesel price premium over the rest of the country at about 9 cents per gallon. Meanwhile, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Maryland, and Alabama are still experiencing a differential of more than 5 cents per gallon over the U.S. market. Georgia’s state diesel tax exemption—set to expire this weekend—has muted any upward diesel price pressure tied to the Colonial outage. The state’s diesel price premium will likely align to neighboring states once the fuel tax is reinstated on Sunday.

How Has Diesel Supply Been Impacted by This Outage So Far?

Diesel and gasoline outages persist today but are much improved since the restart of the pipeline.  Diesel continues to fair better than gasoline and the major truck stop providers were able to keep diesel outages to a minimum.  We expect the outages will subside completely in the coming days if no other disruptions occur. 

As of noon today (May 14), the current outages are focused in South Carolina and Georgia, with 14 and 17 percent of the stations experiencing outages, respectively.  Additionally, the only other states with outages from two major truck stops are in North Carolina and Florida ranging from 5 to 8 percent of station outages. 


5.13.2021

Yesterday’s (May 12) much-anticipated late afternoon press release from Colonial Pipeline Company stated the pipeline’s restart is underway after sustaining a week-long outage. This afforded impacted states a sigh of relief because regional panic buying from consumers has stressed station-level inventories and exacerbated consequences of the pipeline’s offline distribution.

The pipeline is not expected to return to full capacity for a few more days and some states were even expected to see temporary service disruptions during the restart. That said, as of this morning (May 13), Colonial Pipeline Company stated all its served markets will be receiving refined product deliveries—in some capacity—by the afternoon. The image below outlines their plan to resume operations.

Source: Colonial Pipeline Co.

Despite the media’s keen focus on gasoline fundamentals, diesel has remained more insulated from the consumer behaviors that have created sporadic gasoline shortages throughout the southeast and east coast. We will continue monitoring the pipeline’s progress, but its return to operations will ease the supply chain pressures that have unfolded in the past week.

How Have Wholesale Diesel Prices Responded to the Colonial Pipeline Outage So Far?

The range of diesel price premiums in states fed by the Colonial Pipeline slightly expanded today but the supply-induced price pressure has become more centralized. North Carolina is still showing the greatest differential to the rest of the U.S. at nearly 9 cents per gallon. Meanwhile, Tennessee, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Alabama all have diesel premiums of more than 5 cents per gallon over the national average. It is important to note that Georgia’s price level would likely fall close to the states mentioned above, but their state diesel tax exemption—set to expire on May 15—has mitigated upside price pressure from the Colonial outage.

How Has Diesel Supply Been Impacted by This Outage So Far?

Diesel supply at truck stops continues to fair better than gasoline within the Southeast due to mass consumer stockpiling. Major truck stop providers have logistical advantages when compared to smaller stations and have been able to sustain most of their operations. With the announcement for the restart of the Colonial Pipeline, it is expected these shortages will subside in the coming days.

The current outages are most prevalent in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, with most states either reporting less outages or the same as the prior day. South Carolina has experienced the most disruption, with 30 percent of the stations from two major truck stops without diesel supply. For the same two fuel providers, North Carolina and Georgia reported diesel outages at 12 percent of stations. All other states reported 0-5 percent of stations with diesel outages. Upon full operation of the Colonial Pipeline, there will still be logistical challenges in the days ahead of restocking fuel terminals and ultimately distributing refined products to stations and truck stops.


5.12.2021

The narrative of gasoline and diesel supply continues to diverge as we enter the sixth day of the Colonial Pipeline outage. An influx of gasoline purchases as consumers flock to fill up at stations has led the national media attention with more significant shortages. Meanwhile, diesel supply and prices have fared considerably better, though there are still intermittent areas of shortage.

The most impacted market event we are watching is for an official announcement from the Colonial Pipeline Company on their restart plan, which is supposed to come by the end of day today (May 12).

How Have Wholesale Diesel Prices Responded to the Colonial Pipeline Outage So Far?

The biggest headline on price—for both diesel and gasoline—came yesterday when Georgia Governor Brian Kemp suspended the state’s fuel excise tax through Saturday to help alleviate some of the price pressure from the outage. Outside of Georgia, regional premiums are ticking up slightly within the area the Colonial Pipeline serves. North Carolina is showing the greatest differential to national average movements at a premium of 6.6 per gallon. The national diesel wholesale price has risen by an average of 4.6 cents per gallon when compared to a baseline of Friday, May 7.

How Has Diesel Supply Been Impacted by This Outage So Far?

Diesel supply at truck stops continues to fair better than gasoline within the Southeast. Major truck stop providers have logistical advantages when compared to smaller stations and have been able to sustain most of their operations. There are a growing number of intermittent outages being reported with most of them stating that supply is returned within hours or overnight. These outages are more prevalent in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia due to their distance from major refining and storage infrastructure in the Gulf Coast and Northeast. North Carolina and South Carolina have experienced the most disruption, with mid-day reports showing anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of stations with supply shortages for two major truck stop providers. These same providers have announced between 10 and 20 percent of locations with supply issues in Georgia, with other states in the region showing 0 to 10 percent of stations with diesel outages.


5.11.2021

The current outage of the Colonial Pipeline came with some good news within the last day, as the Colonial Pipeline Company announced their plan to have “substantially returned operations” by the end of the week. While the details of substantially returning service may be a bit unclear, the larger indication of progress and a general timeline is a positive sign for supply chains moving through the Southeast and East Coast U.S.

How Have Wholesale Diesel Prices Responded to the Colonial Pipeline Outage So Far?

Southeast and East Coast states reliant on fuel supply from the Colonial Pipeline system have seen a slight range of wholesale diesel price swings relative to the national market. Some states on the outskirts of the pipeline’s path have seen little-to-no upward diesel price pressure since the Colonial’s main artery went offline late last week. Others, in the heart of the pipeline’s distribution chain, are seeing diesel premiums of up to nearly 5 cents per gallon compared to the rest of the country. These station-level price developments speak to the regional nature of the event and the relatively muted price response thus far, regardless of what many gasoline-centric headlines suggest. We do not expect upward diesel price implications to drastically escalate with the pipeline set to reopen by the end of this week.

At the time of this fuel market update, market trading volatility shows today’s diesel price gains are stuck around 2 cents per gallon, with no major discrepancies across different regions of the country. This indicates incremental diesel price increases in the coming days should be minimal because of available inventories that will alleviate most supply concerns between now and the pipeline’s restart.

How Has Diesel Supply Been Impacted by This Outage So Far?

Supply shortages have been dominating mainstream media headlines. However, at the time of this publication, there have been a limited number of outages reported for major diesel fuel providers. There have been a few reports of intermittent supply concerns within Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These outages have thus far been limited to a few hours before supply is delivered. The duration of the outage will ultimately determine the magnitude of the supply disruption.


5.10.2021

The Colonial Pipeline—the main transportation means of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel for Southeastern and East Coast states—was completely shut down on Thursday due to what was later revealed as a ransomware attack. News of the outage spread Friday and throughout the weekend with multiple federal agencies stepping in to assist in resolving the issue. The Colonial Pipeline Company has communicated they are making plans for a safe restart, but no details have been provided on the timeline to resume operations.

What is the Colonial Pipeline and Why is it Important?

The Colonial is the largest pipeline within the United States, acting as the main artery of refined product distribution from the gulf refineries of Houston, TX through the Southeast and up the East Coast to Linden, NJ. It moves roughly 100 million gallons of products a day—nearly half of East Coast demand—with little to no alternatives of distribution for the areas it serves.

Source: Colonial Pipeline Co.

What Does the Current Outage Mean for Wholesale Diesel Prices?

The Colonial Pipeline is a part of downstream transportation when considering the full energy supply chain. Since this portion is after oil production and storage as well as oil refining, disruptions normally lead to regional price volatility (especially for the states along the Colonial’s path). Inventory levels of gasoline and diesel on the East Coast are currently around their five-year average, meaning that a pipeline restart within the next few days is unlikely to strain prices or product supply. However, if the current outage lingers beyond this week, there may be a more significant price impact.

In the interim, a federal emergency declaration has been made for the region to allow tanker drivers to exceed maximum hours of service. This will allow for some easing of price or supply concerns in the days ahead.

Media headlines have referenced early-market trading volatility of 5-7 cents per gallon for gasoline and diesel heading into the business week. At the time of this publication, these gains have pared down below 1 cent per gallon, which speaks to the minimal price implications we expect to hit downstream wholesale diesel prices in the short term.

In the days ahead, price implications are likely to occur at the fuel terminal and station level (downstream from these spot region pricing). The Advisor Team will be following these downstream prices to provide more accurate reflections of the impact on your supply chain.

What Does the Current Outage Mean for Diesel Supply?

Inventories in this region of the country (PADD 1) are currently around the five-year average for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. This allows for a cushion of supply that can weather the short-term implications of the pipeline outage. Should the issue linger beyond this week, then a concern for areas of a supply shortage could arise.

What Could be the Potential Long-Term Ramifications of the Outage?

An outage that extends beyond a week could become a greater concern for multiple parts of the United States. A prolonged timeframe without a plan to restart would clearly strain supply and bring price premiums to the area served by the Colonial Pipeline. Additionally, the lack of this main outlet for Gulf Coast refineries could disrupt the broader U.S. energy supply chain.

In the medium-term, the U.S. Gulf Coast can divert product to the Upper Midwest and other mid-continent markets. This can bring slight price discounts for these regions with the incremental supply introduced. If Gulf Coast refineries find themselves with excess supply after the initial divergence of products, the possibility of reduced run rates or some idled refineries within the major refining hub could become a reality. This type of scenario could bring more national impacts, though it is too early for our team to speculate on the total implications.

Brett Wetzel
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Sustainability & Tech
April 28, 2021
Measuring Transportation Emissions: with Talking Logistics

Governments, corporations, and consumers alike are continuing to pursue greater efforts and policies that support sustainability and lowering their carbon footprints in 2021. The transportation industry is not immune to this trend, and as one of the dirtiest emitting sectors in North America, reporting, creating processes, and adopting technology to support these goals can be a convoluted challenge.

Hear from Brett Wetzel, Senior Director of Applied Knowledge at Breakthrough, and Adrian Gonzalez from Talking Logistics as they dig into what sustainability in commercial transportation strategies looks like, and how to turn future goals into today’s operations. As they work through the nuances of emissions reporting, transparency and a robust understanding of the current clean energy landscape emerged as key elements needed for a successful strategy.

The challenge with gaining visibility to transportation emissions in the supply chain? Scope 3 emissions—the greenhouse gases emitted throughout a good’s value chain that are not directly controlled by a manufacturer. Transportation lies within scope 3 emissions, which raises a lot of questions about who is responsible for managing and reducing those emissions—the manufacturer, or the third-party partner that produces them?

As Wetzel explains, “I think in transportation a big challenge has been the idea of, ‘do you actually have control over somebody else’s assets or somebody else’s decisions out there.’” This relationship has created confusion and lack of universal process in emissions abatement. For shippers looking to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint, it’s a key part of the puzzle to solve.

But its not an impossible problem to solve, and both Wetzel and Gonzalez discussed how shippers can bridge the gap between a conceptual understanding of what needs to happen, and how to achieve success and improvement on the ground today.

Gonzalez posed the question, “how do you get started measuring transportation emissions? What are some of the tools or capabilities required?

Wetzel responded, quite simply, “Understanding ‘what am I trying to measure in the first place?’ There’s a big move to go to what’s known as lifecycle emissions—which is it’s no longer just what’s coming out of the tailpipe, but how was my fuel sourced, how was it created—and its also about more than just carbon dioxide.”

At Breakthrough, we use our applied knowledge team to help shippers understand this question—from the high-level industry basics, all the way down to the unique nuances of the actual energy moving their goods to market, where it comes from, and how it interacts with their network.

Actuals, not averages. Taking a macroscopic view of sustainability is a great place to start, but to drive change and enact more emissions-friendly operations in your organization, shippers need to drill down into the unique aspects of their network footprint.

Tune in to the video above to listen to the conversation and get the full analysis about measuring transportation emissions.

Sarah Krier
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Sustainability & Tech
April 27, 2021
President Biden’s First 100 Days: Transportation and Supply Chain Perspective

A new president’s first 100 days is often the benchmark for gauging their leadership style in accordance with campaign promises. This stretch for U.S. President Joe Biden has arguably received more attention than ever because of the turbulent times the nation is working through in more realms than one.

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic and the health of the economy are presently at the center of most discussions in Washington. That said, we are also at a point where changes are being made beyond stimulating the economy and a pandemic response plan. Facets of climate, energy, and infrastructure policy have already been engineered to the point that the transportation industry will be affected sooner rather than later.

Here we review a few of the more prominent climate, energy, and infrastructure policy moves that have developed since Biden took office.

Biden’s Climate and Environment Policy

Both combatting climate change and reasserting the U.S. as a global climate advocate remain near the top of the Biden Administration’s list of priorities. This was evident in the nation’s near-immediate return to the Paris Agreement upon being sworn into office. Additionally, in early April, Biden committed to a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. He also doubled down on making the power sector completely carbon-free by 2035 and on establishing a path toward net-zero emissions by 2050.

The 2030 goal is perhaps the most aggressive, nearly doubling the Obama Administration’s 2015 target, but it was necessary to stay compliant with the Paris Agreement agenda. Ambiguity exists around the paths to accomplishing items within Biden’s clean energy blueprint, but the political pledge to do so—especially this quickly—is the first step toward execution.

Looking beyond his first 100 days, Biden still plans to reinstate many of the environmental regulations that took a back seat under President Trump. Stricter crude oil and natural gas land leases, limiting methane emissions from energy production, and reinstating fuel economy standards are a few of the climate-related items that remain in the nearer-term pipeline.

Scaling electric vehicle development and charging infrastructure, a potential national carbon pricing program, and large-scale renewable energy projects with revenue from tax reform are also longer-term initiatives to watch. These types of undertakings often come with congressional scrutiny due to the need for funding, so their status is a bit more unclear.

Energy Policy Under President Biden

One of the most polarizing energy-related moves the Biden Administration is currently debating falls in the foreign policy bucket: a possible return to the Iran nuclear deal. The U.S.’ withdrawal in 2018 sent shockwaves through global energy markets because of the Iranian crude oil sanctions that followed. This ultimately intensified Iran’s geopolitical footprint and positioned the country at the center of most conflict in and around the lucrative Middle East oil region. Now, however, Biden’s administration is talking with world leaders to potentially ease sanctions against some of Iran’s most vital economic elements and may return to the accord after a multi-year hiatus.

While progress is being made between the two economies, it has become clearer that neither a resolution nor its oil market side effects will materialize overnight. Differing opinions in Washington and Iran’s refusal to meet directly with U.S. officials highlight the fragility of the situation as each economy is at odds over the other’s requests. Nonetheless, we are presently closer to inking a deal with Iran than we were before the Biden era.

Should leaders reach an agreement, global crude oil supply fundamentals would likely reap the benefits because Iranian exports would more freely be able to hit the open market. The crude oil—and therefore diesel—price impacts, on the other hand, remain a wild card. How much additional Iranian product would become available, who the buyers would be, and if Iran would resume its OPEC involvement are all details yet to be ironed out.

Biden Administration’s U.S. Infrastructure Plans

President Biden’s ambitions around infrastructure policy were also a centerpiece of his campaign, and unsurprisingly, largely aligned to his climate-centric vision. That said, his late-March unveiling of a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal was expected, albeit probably more prompt than what some envisioned given the circumstances.

Unlike traditional infrastructure bills, Biden’s goes far beyond physical infrastructure. The plan includes everything from clean energy workforce training and school upgrades to road repairs and scaling electric vehicle development. This broad stroke approach is about aiding domestic job growth as much as it hopes to reshape the American economy.

Over 25 percent of the funds would be allocated to electric vehicles, charging stations, roads, bridges, railways, airports, water ports, and clean energy innovations for the power grid. Tax rebates and incentives for electric vehicle buyers would also become available, all with an emphasis on clean energy investment. The transportation portion of Biden’s proposal is where the shipper implications come into play, especially the alternative energy and vehicle options that drastically differ from the industry norm.

Biden’s infrastructure plan will need to pass Congress next, where it will face heavy opposition from both sides of the political aisle. Some politicians believe the bill is too broad, while others are against the corporate tax hikes required to fund it. Either way, uncertainty exists around the bill’s likelihood and timelines for implementation.

Impacts that Biden’s Policies Will Have on the Shipping Industry

The first 100 days under new leadership serve as a sign that our president’s political perspective drastically differs from the prior. Portions of President Biden’s climate commitments and infrastructure proposals could work in tandem to accelerate the rollout of larger-scale carbon pricing programs and incentive-based models. This would work to make his climate objectives more nationally scoped and encourage stakeholders—especially shippers—to participate in this inevitable clean energy transition. Additionally, his actions in energy policy could have more of a ripple effect on the current energy landscape, given its oil-centric premise.

Regardless of the outcomes tied to each of these early-stage political ambitions, offshoots of all of them are unavoidable for shippers, their supply chains, and the transportation industry. Timing and details may still be unclear, but the fact that change is coming is more apparent.

Brett Wetzel

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