Transportation Fuels Show Dramatic Drop During Pandemic

May 8, 2020

New research from Northern Arizona University shows a dramatic plunge in gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel use during the coronavirus pandemic. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Credit ADOT

For the first three weeks of April, gasoline use in major U.S. cities declined by roughly half, jet fuel by 70 percent and diesel fuel by 20 percent. Kevin Gurney of Northern Arizona University is tracking the data. He says gasoline has shown a slight rebound in the last week or two.

"That’s consistent with some of the traffic data we’ve looked at, which also shows a return of traffic, still not to its normal levels but not as low as the latter part of March, early part of April," he says. Gurney says the rebound may reflect states lifting lockdowns or more people choosing not to comply with them.

He also calculated that CO2 emissions for 2020 could be 5 to 15 percent lower depending on how long the reduced traffic lasts. Gurney says that holds lessons for acting on climate change. "There’s a positive side to this story, too. Yes, it’s a daunting problem, but look how we’ve changed our activity when we feel a threat is imminent."

The transportation sector accounts for about a fifth of U.S. carbon emissions. Gurney plans to look next at how the pandemic has affected electricity and natural gas.

The red line shows the U.S. weekly gasoline supply, beginning in April 2009 and ending April 2020. The graph shows a recent sudden drop in gasoline use, followed by a slight rebound.
Credit Kevin Gurney