View Full Version : Effects of Long Term Gas Shortage

05-24-2018, 11:46 PM
Hey everybody! I'm having some trouble finding the long term effects of gas shortages. I have a friend working in the oil industry and he once told me that if Texas was quarantined, our supply of gas would last around six months if we continued to use our personal vehicles. He wasn't including public transportation and I can't recall if he was including our own reserves in this situation or just the imported supplies.... I lost his contact, so I can't follow up with questions.

What I'd like to know is after that 6 month window and how gas shortages would effect electricity and water and other necessities we don't think about associated with this resource.


05-25-2018, 01:12 AM
Interesting question. I'll wait for people in the know to give their answers, but this will severely impact farming and ranching, plus getting goods of all kinds to market. I expect prices for all kinds of things would go up unless they're quite local. Trucking is a huge industry.

05-25-2018, 01:43 AM
Depends how much of a shortage and for how long the problem lasts. Short-term you'll see price hikes, longer term you'll see rationing. Priority industries will receive as much as possible and personal vehicles will be far down the list of things that need gas.

I don't think there's much electrical generation from petroleum. Electrical generation is from natural gas which is a different market, as well as nuclear, hydro, and coal. Water from diesel pumps would be effected but would be a priority usage probably.

World War II, especially in England, would give you a good idea what it would be like, as there was a severe shortage of petroleum products.

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-25-2018, 02:11 AM
We got through WWII with petrol rationing (which lasted until well after the war, 1950 I believe).
Plus people would quickly get serious about biodiesel, public transport and electric vehicles.

Siri Kirpal
05-25-2018, 04:01 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

In addition to the above, remember that plastic is made from petroleum. So there'd eventually be a return to wood and clay based containers, etc.


Siri Kirpal

05-25-2018, 04:29 AM
Are you talking about a worldwide shortage or just a local one? Because in the latter case, wouldn't petroleum products be brought in from elsewhere (at a vastly inflated price)?

05-25-2018, 05:14 AM
I'm talking locally. In my story, I have it to where gasoline is imported about once a month and is rationed out first to farming communities and areas that will help keep the state self sustained until the boarders open up again.

As far as how long, I'm thinking a couple of years. So not super long term but definitely enough to change the landscape and outlook of the people. I imagine most would migrate to larger cities that have good public transportation but that will cause job shortages and effect the rural areas as well....

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This is all great feedback so thank you!!

05-25-2018, 06:49 AM
Also, I'm curious about cellphones and stores/restaurants. How would a gas shortage affect those things?

Siri Kirpal
05-25-2018, 06:52 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

As stated upstream, gasoline shortages will impact trucking. And that will impact restaurants and stores from getting goods to sell.


Siri Kirpal

05-25-2018, 04:21 PM
Just spitballing here, but cell phones' impact would be minimal in a two-year period. They are mostly made in China and shipped to the US and Europe, so if China has petroleum to make the plastic components and there's fuel for shipping, no problem with new ones reaching our shores. In the US, it's possible maintenance and repairs to cell towers might be delayed because it takes gasoline for service trucks to get there. And the trucks that bring everything from entry port to market will be impacted by gas shortages or non-availability.

Stores' prices may spike for popular goods because few or none can be trucked in. Whether it's clothing and footwear made overseas; canned goods, fresh fish, meat and poultry, frozen foods, cereal, or produce; books and periodicals published in New York; wines from California or New York; or anything else that's either imported or created mainly in one place, those prices will go up and/or availability will greatly decrease, probably both.

Some restaurants will be able to switch to local options, if they're fortunate enough to live where there's sufficient agriculture of a wide variety. But there are huge parts of the US where it's unlikely anybody can farm wheat and make flour, or raise dairy cattle.

I would think that a lot of people will react as they did during WWII, with victory gardens in which they grow a lot of what they eat, using and reusing what they can, doing tasks by hand rather than by machine, and making do with less. People will take up winemaking a brewing, bake their own bread, do a good bit of canning, make clothing and sweaters, walk and ride bikes, repurpose horses they rode for pleasure, and in other ways emulate the lives of their forebears.

It could be kind of cool in a way. And massively frustrating in other ways.

05-26-2018, 12:03 AM
Don't forget that massive amounts of petroleum-based fuel are used for manufacturing purposes, as well as for transportation.


Dennis E. Taylor
05-26-2018, 06:39 AM
During WWII, some places that had severe gas shortages converted automobiles to run on wood. Wood gassifiers. About 3 Kg of wood is equivalent to a liter of gasoline. The gassifier is a huge "add-on" and looks ridiculous, but as long as you have burnable wood (or similar fuel) you can run your cars, trucks, and tractors.

05-26-2018, 07:10 AM
Dude! That is some steampunk badassery right there!! I'm using it!

05-26-2018, 09:47 AM
I read the title thinking you meant gas (i.e. the mostly methane stuff we use over here for central heating and if you have a gas cooker). I was going to suggest that people could manage just fine with electric heaters even though they're a total pain, albeit if you had a gas cooker you'd have to buy an electric one if there's a long term gas shortage. lol.

But upon reading the question, you meant petrol. Okay I don't have experience of a petrol shortage, but I do know how quickly everything shuts down because people can't drive to work - a la the "Beast from the East" snowstorm in March (yeah, British weather never bothered itself about seasons) where the local council ran out of grit after a few hours and the roads became like a giant ice rink. No-one could drive anywhere so everyone had to stay at home. It didn't matter because it was only for a couple of days, because our totally irrational weather caused the ice to have all melted by Saturday afternoon. But what you're talking about is a long term situation where no-one can drive to work. And the USA is a lot more dependent on cars than the UK. But why aren't we so dependent on cars? We have good public transport... but buses need petrol, albeit trains run on electricity. But what are they putting in the power stations to make the trains run? In the Beast from the East, the entire local bus company stopped running, loads of trains were cancelled (and people were stuck overnight on trains that were stranded mid-journey as the tracks became impassable). The entire transportation system - roads and rail - shut down. No-one could go anywhere.

What happens to an economy when no-one can get to work? A few people would be able to walk to work, but probably not enough people to keep the various businesses running. If the various businesses and services can't keep running, well, there won't be those businesses and services any more.

During Beast from the East, lots of people with 4x4s banded together (organising themselves online) working with emergency services to drive emergency service workers to work if they were unable to get in, so the hospitals and emergency services could remain running. However, while 4x4s are good in a snowstorm, they still run off petrol (rather a lot of it at that), so even emergency services would shut down. Plus, ambulances, police cars and fire engines need petrol.

Diesel cars can be converted to run off chip fat. I mean vegetable oil. The stuff you deep fry chips in. By chips I mean fries. I'm assuming that if there's no petrol there'd be no diesel either, but those who do have a diesel car, if they know a mechanic who knows how to do the conversion, they could run their cars off chip fat. That would alleviate some of the problems.

Also, if there's no petrol, there'd be no other hydrocarbon fossil fuels like diesel or kerosene (jet fuel). Petrol is octane, i.e. the hydrocarbons with 8 carbons but it's made by fractional distillation from crude oil, and the other things like diesel, kerosene, and gases like methane, are just hydrocarbons with different numbers of carbon atoms. So I'm assuming that no petrol is the result of no crude oil, therefore there'd be none of the other products of fractional distillation. What's going into the power stations? No-one would have electricity if it's all currently coming from products of crude oil. How much of the electricity comes from green sources, or other sources that don't require crude oil? No electricity = even worse problems. But people may be able to power their homes through microgeneration (e.g. your own personal solar panel or wind turbine). Some companies may have their own generators (though if they run off fossil fuels they won't work any more). But if no-one can get to work in the first place, microgeneration isn't going to solve anything.

05-28-2018, 07:05 AM
The problem with losing Texas is refineries, not actual supplies of fuel. You'd see price increases, some rationing, switching to alternate fuels and a quick diversification of the refining industry.

But, what is going to quarantine Texas for years? And where exactly is this quarantine? Gulf coast has a lot of mothballed refining capacity and there are quite a few other locations in the US alone, not to mention Mexico, Canada, South America and so on.

And the real question -- What do you need for your story?


05-28-2018, 07:05 PM
I know nothing about Texas. But petrol has a limited shelf life. In a sealed container fresh petrol will last a year. In a hot climate and unsealed tanks, that could come down to 3 months. The first thing that would happen if the fuel line was cut. The local government would secure most of the fuel in sealed storage and guard it.

05-28-2018, 09:13 PM
stephenf makes a good point. In more than one good post-apocalyptic novel, gasoline no longer "works" because it's gotten too old, and people are reduced to living the way we did before cars.

05-29-2018, 03:38 AM
This is all good stuff!

What would be the most obvious things to collapse? We talked briefly about maintaining cell towers would be difficult but what about televisions also? If just one state, not the whole country, was restricted...how would these modern conveniences bet handled? Low on the totem pole of demand or high because the community would want access to news and family that lived beyond the state's borders?

Would it be like living in the 50s/60s? Or not nearly that bad?

I'm thinking of having a government regulated import/export situation that occurs only once a month. The story is basically a wanted man they don't want escaping beyond where they've been able to track him and so the state is put on lockdown until he's captured. I want to play it realistically as possible and I figured the gas shortage would come first. That's why I'm interested in the domino effect our dependency has.

You all have been really awesome with your input!!

Siri Kirpal
05-29-2018, 05:50 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Honey, the '50s and '60 weren't a bad time for gasoline. The stuff was cheap and there were plenty of places around the country that produced it. And while the only computers were owned by the government and big businesses, there was TV and radio and snail mail was actually popular.

So I'm thinking your scenario would be worse, because people wouldn't be going back to letter writing that quickly. And telegraph no longer exists.


Siri Kirpal

05-29-2018, 07:02 AM
The story is basically a wanted man they don't want escaping beyond where they've been able to track him and so the state is put on lockdown until he's captured. I want to play it realistically as possible ...

I hate to rain on someone's idea. But there's no way of doing this realistically.

After the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston shut down. Basically after his brother was shot and killed by the police, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev disappeared. Early in the morning of 19 April, Watertown residents were told to stay in their houses. This was later expanded to several surrounding communities as the search expanded for Tsarneav. Most Boston taxis stayed home, public transit was shut down, schools and businesses were closed, and people were strongly discouraged from driving into the greater Boston area. It was like a massive blizzard. Thousands of cops were searching desperately to find Tsarnaev. This situation lasted for twelve plus hours before it was lifted.

This is the first and only time that a US city has been shut down to search for a criminal. The economic cost was into the billions of dollars. There are questions whether it was worth the cost or significantly changed the result.

I can't believe that anyone would try shutting down a state for more then 24 hours, and that's stretching credibility.

Nor do I believe it is possible to shut down borders. Stopping smuggling has never succeeded. All you can do is whittle around the edges. Even if Trump's wall goes up, people will tunnel under it, sail around it, and probably fly over it. It will reduce the problem, but people are persistent buggers and they're going to try to find away around anything.


Jim Clark-Dawe

05-29-2018, 07:25 AM
Smuggling/the black market is definitely part of the working idea. I acknowledge that this idea is asking for a lot of suspended belief....any post apocalyptic genre asks that. But I'm also asking for if then, therefore information so that there's some waves probability that ground the story a bit more. I'd much rather that than pull the "because I said so" card. I don't think you're raining on the idea parade.