Baltimore bridge collapse could squeeze DEF supply

Screen Shot 2021 06 28 At 3 39 52 Pm Headshot
Updated Apr 1, 2024

The Francis Scott Key Bridge's spectacular collapse in the wee hours of Tuesday morning shuttered the Port of Baltimore indefinitely, and in the process shut down one of the main entry points for DEF into the Northeast. 

Will DEF become scarce, or exceedingly expensive in response? Dominick Tullo, general manager of T&R Oil Co., one of the biggest resellers of DEF, diesel and other fuels in the region, caused a bit of a stir on Twitter by pointing out that the port's closure could create a "supply squeeze on Bayonne NJ's IMTT DEF Terminal" and to "expect price surge" in response. 

"Bayonne, where I load up, works banker's hours, 6 a.m to 4 p.m.," Tullo said in an interview. "Everyone there is union and they take an hour lunch break. You couldn't show up with double the trucks there tomorrow, because there's not enough capacity to even load you. It wouldn't matter if you had the product."

But things aren't entirely grim for DEF availability. "Some will get rerouted to Virginia, some will get rerouted to Philly, and some will go to Bayonne," he said. 

[Related: Baltimore bridge collapse prompts changes to city's truck routes]

And as for the price surge, that could take a while, if it ever comes around.

"At this point, we don’t plan to adjust the pricing," said Tullo, explaining that his vendors change DEF prices once a month based on a commodity price tracker and that this late in March, prices could take until May 1 to rise. 

And by May 1, there are plenty of other factors in play, too. "We also need to consider that urea," the most important input in DEF, "is primarily used to make fertilizer. We're coming up on farm season in the Northeast, so put that into play too." Tullo said in previous Port of Balitmore outages, like short-lived hurricanes, "things got hairy," but he doesn't think truckers need to stockpile DEF. Instead, he predicted some spotty availability here and there at truck stops, but no widespread shortage. 

That said, it doesn't take much to create a DEF panic. In 2021, the heyday of the pandemic freight market, rumors of a diesel and DEF shortage swirled, but Overdrive found no evidence of any systematic shortage and few owner-operators, if any, going hungry at the pump.

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

Tullo said he has three major DEF suppliers that will "bend over backwards" to get him product, as well as a string of redundant sources to keep the critical fluid flowing. 

Port of Baltimore represents the 20th biggest port in the U.S. in terms of tonnage, but it's higher ranked for imports of vehicles and parts, as well as other manufactured goods and some cheaper freight like paper products. The United States Secretary of the Treasury on Wednesday called a Supply Chain Task Force meeting on the bridge collapse, and President Joe Biden has essentially pledged to pay for reconstruction of the whole thing. 

[Related: I-695 Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse: Alternate hazmat/oversize routes, more]