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Gas lines in Michigan?

A potential gas shortage in Michigan prompted Gov. Rick Snyder to issue an executive order Tuesday to allow fuel truck drivers to make longer treks than usually allowable under law.

The action was taken in light of the shutdown of a fuel pipeline in Wisconsin and a fire at a Marathon refinery in Detroit.

“We want to make sure the fuel Michiganders need for their travels to work, school or a long weekend trip is available,” Snyder said in a statement. “This executive order will help ensure there are no artificial shortages of fuel impacting the state’s residents or visitors.”

The order is in effect until June 6.

Snyder’s action, though, is probably more based in political prudence than in any notion of reality, said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. The executive order ensures that if there is a supply issue, truckers can make a longer haul.

“Motorists become much more price sensitive as we approach Memorial Day, and to see gas prices go up, they get very angry,” DeHaan said. “But there is nothing so severe in my mind that we are going to see gas shortages. High prices, yes. Gas shortage, no.”

Michigan, Ohio and Indiana have seen the biggest price per gallon fuel jumps in the nation so far this year, according to GasBuddy, ranging from 66 cents in Ohio to 55 cents in Indiana.

The notion of a gas shortage takes many Americans back to the '70s, when drivers waited in line for hours to fill up during an oil embargo by key oil-producing countries in the Middle East.

While that’s unlikely during what has been one of the most prolific booms in oil production history in the U.S. over the last five years, some parts of the country have felt gas shortages this month.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared an emergency on May 6, after the closure of a primary pipeline running between Milwaukee and Green Bay. Like that of Gov. Snyder, the order loosened regulations regarding the length of time a trucker may be on the road.

In his order, Walker said the “… Shortage of petroleum products in the Green Bay area poses serious risks to the health, welfare and economic well-being of the citizens of this state …”

Gas stations around Atlanta ran out of gas during the second weekend of May, due to pipeline work that delayed shipments. The deficit was remedied in a few days.

Shortages in the U.S. in recent years have been linked to refinery breakdowns and storms, and have been relatively rare and short-lived.

Canada, though, has seen shortages intermittently over the years. Most recently, wildfires in the province of Alberta early this month hampered oil production facilities, stoking fears of gas shortages.

GasBuddy analyst Dan McTeague, in an interview with the Calgary Sun, speculated on possible resolutions if a shortage took hold. One bit of insight: Don’t look to the U.S.

“It would have to be a situation where there is not enough oil and no import options,” McTeague said. “Can we import from the U.S.? Possibly, but U.S. demand for gasoline is at an all-time high, so the timing on this is bad.”

Drivers in Nova Scotia in September experienced waits that were several cars deep, after a refinery was forced to turn away some shipments of fuel that did not meet its standards.

In the U.S., “things are tight, and several [supply outlets] are under duress,” DeHaan said. “The numbers show that there is nothing brewing but a supply crunch, which can mean high prices.“