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With Hawaii’s isolated location far out in the Pacific Ocean, have you ever wondered how the Hawaiian islands get the fuel needed to power its cars, boats, planes and electrical plants? It’s an intriguing question many visitors ponder when TOURING this remote island paradise.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hawaii gets almost all of its oil and gas supplies via OCEAN TANKERS from large fuel depots on the U.S. west coast. The islands have limited REFINING capacity and storage, so regular fuel barge SHIPMENTS are critical to keep Hawaii running.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a closer look at how gasoline makes its 2,500-mile JOURNEY across the Pacific Ocean to power Hawaii’s TRANSPORTATION, military operations and electricity. We’ll examine Hawaii’s OIL SUPPLY CHAIN including its local refineries, storage terminals and distribution infrastructure.

And we’ll learn how Hawaii COPES when there’s a disruption to fuel deliveries from the mainland.

Hawaii’s Limited Oil Refining Capabilities

Only 2 small refineries in the islands

Hawaii has just two relatively small oil refineries located on the islands that supply some of the state’s gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The largest is the Par Pacific refinery located near Kapolei on Oahu, which has a crude oil refining capacity of 94,000 barrels per day.

The other facility is the Island Energy Services refinery on Maui, which is much smaller with a refining capacity of just 6,000 barrels per day.

Together, Hawaii’s two refineries can supply only about 30% of the state’s total gasoline demand, which is around 60,000 barrels per day. That puts Hawaii in a uniquely challenging position of needing to import the vast majority of its fuel from foreign sources, primarily Asia-Pacific countries.

Most gasoline is refined on U.S. west coast

With Hawaii’s limited in-state refining capabilities, approximately 70% of the state’s gasoline supply is refined at other locations, mostly large refineries on the U.S. west coast such as in California, Washington and Alaska.

This gasoline is then shipped on cargo tankers and barges over 2,400+ miles across the Pacific Ocean to various terminals and ports throughout the Hawaiian islands.

Transporting such large fuel volumes over vast ocean distances makes Hawaii particularly vulnerable to external supply disruptions. Natural disasters, shipping delays, refinery outages and other unpredictable events can quickly leave Hawaii with fuel shortages. Maintaining steady imports is crucial.

Importing Fuel from West Coast Supply Hubs

Regular barge trips carry fuel to islands

Hawaii relies heavily on regular barge trips from West Coast fuel supply hubs to meet its energy needs. Over 2.5 million barrels of petroleum products including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel arrive in Hawaii’s ports each month by barge or tanker ship.

The journey begins at supply terminals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington state. Massive oil tankers and barges, some over 700 feet long, are loaded up with fuel and then embark on the over 2,500 nautical mile trip across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.

Depending on sailing conditions, the trip can take between 5-9 days one way. Tugboats often assist in maneuvering the barges into Hawaii’s ports. Some of the main destination harbors are Honolulu, Hilo, Kahului, and Nawiliwili.

From the harbors, fuel is transferred to storage terminals before being trucked to gas stations and airports across the islands. It is a continuous cycle to keep Hawaii powered.

Fuel travels over 2,500 nautical miles

The journey from the US West Coast over 2,500 nautical miles is no easy feat. The tropical Pacific waters can often be rough and turbulent. Rogue waves over 30 feet high are not uncommon in the shipping lanes.

In addition to natural hazards, fuel barges have to contend with busy commercial and fishing vessel traffic on their trek. Careful navigation and planning is essential to ensure safe passage.

Occasionally barges have run into trouble on the voyage over. In 2021, a tanker barge damaged its hull near the Hawaiian islands, leaking some 4,000 gallons of oil into the ocean before being patched. Thankfully major spills are rare.

The long supply chain makes Hawaii vulnerable to any disruptions in fuel imports. Regional conflicts, natural disasters, or other threats to West Coast fuel terminals could severely impact energy supplies. Maintaining diversity of supply will continue to be a challenge but also a priority for Hawaii.

Strategic Fuel Reserves & Inventory Management

Hawaii relies heavily on imported petroleum products to meet its energy needs. Unlike the continental United States, Hawaii does not have pipelines or other infrastructure to transport fuels between islands or from other states.

All gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel must be shipped in by cargo tankers and barges.

To ensure energy security and supply resilience, Hawaii maintains strategic fuel reserves and uses inventory management best practices. The state’s fuel reserves provide a buffer against potential supply disruptions caused by natural disasters, geopolitical events, or other unexpected circumstances.

Hawaii State Fuel Reserve

The Hawaii State Fuel Reserve maintains inventories of diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii. As of 2022, the reserve’s total storage capacity is approximately 66 million gallons across 27 storage terminals statewide.

This is equivalent to 54 days of supply based on Hawaii’s average daily fuel consumption.

The state fuel reserve is managed by business and government representatives from organizations like the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies, and oil/gas companies.

They monitor inventory levels and utilize a robust decision framework to buy, sell, store or release fuel stocks to balance market stability, emergency preparedness, and prudent financial management.

Commercial Fuel Inventories

In addition to the State Fuel Reserve, Hawaii’s fuel supply chain relies on inventories held by commercial terminals and distributors. Companies like Aloha Petroleum, Par Petroleum, and BAE Systems maintain their own stocks to meet customer demand and business needs.

Industry analysts estimate Hawaii’s commercial fuel storage capacity at approximately 75-80 days when tanks are full. However, normal operating inventories are lower at any given time. While data is limited, commercial diesel stocks are estimated at 20-30 days on average.

For gasoline, estimates range from 7 days on Oahu to 30 days on the neighbor islands.

Inventory Management Strategies

To balance fuel supply and demand despite Hawaii’s unique logistics constraints, companies use various inventory optimization strategies including:

  • Careful monitoring of local demand trends and external factors affecting supply
  • Coordination between terminals to transfer product inventories as needed
  • Leveraging storage capabilities across distribution networks and supply chains
  • Flexible contracting with suppliers to balance just-in-time needs with long-term supply agreements

By actively managing fuel stocks and logistics, Hawaii’s oil companies and government agencies work hard to ensure steady, affordable fuel supplies across one of the most remote fuel markets in the world.

Distribution Infrastructure Across the Islands

Hawaii’s fuel distribution infrastructure is critical for getting gasoline and other petroleum products from refineries and ports to end-users across the islands. This complex system involves ships, barges, pipelines, storage terminals, and trucks working together to meet Hawaii’s energy needs.

Inter-Island Barge System

A fleet of 6 U.S. flagged barge vessels run by Hawaii Fuel Network transports the majority of fuels between islands. These double-hulled barges have a total capacity of 332,000 barrels and make about 100 inter-island trips per month.

Fuel is transported from refineries and terminals on Oahu to storage terminals on the Neighbor Islands. This is a vital lifeline for communities that have no refineries or pipelines of their own.

Intra-Island Distribution Infrastructure

Once fuel reaches storage terminals on each island, a network of trucks delivers it to gas stations, airports, marine fueling stations and other end-users. For example, Aloha Petroleum has 30 fueling terminals statewide and operates a fleet of 90 tanker trucks.

Similarly, Hawaii Petroleum has trucks making 1,200 deliveries across islands per day. Maintaining these extensive trucking operations is hugely important for last-mile distribution.

There is also some pipeline infrastructure within islands. Chevron operates a 16-mile pipeline from Barbers Point terminal to Honolulu International Airport on Oahu. Par Hawaii has a 7.5-mile pipeline from Kapolei terminal to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

However, most intra-island distribution still relies heavily on tanker trucks driving along Hawaii’s roads and highways.

Coping With Fuel Supply Disruptions

Hawaii’s fuel supply chain faces periodic disruptions due to natural disasters, shipping delays, and other unforeseen circumstances. When disruptions occur, there are several strategies Hawaii residents and businesses can use to cope:

Conserve Fuel

One of the best ways to stretch limited fuel supplies is to conserve fuel usage. Simple strategies like carpooling, combining errands, and avoiding unnecessary car trips can significantly reduce fuel consumption.

Hawaii government agencies often encourage fuel conservation measures during supply disruptions.

Seek Alternative Transportation

Public transportation, bicycles, electric vehicles, and other alternative transport can alleviate demand for traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. The island of Oahu has an extensive public bus system that continues operating even when fuel is in short supply.

Tap Emergency Fuel Reserves

Hawaii maintains emergency gasoline reserves that can temporarily supplement supplies during disruptions. For example, Hawaii tapped its reserves when Hurricane Lane threatened fuel delivery operations in 2018. Tapping reserves provides the islands time to restore normal fuel delivery.

Enable Fuel Prioritization

During significant fuel shortages, Hawaii may enable emergency fuel prioritization policies. These policies direct limited fuel supplies to essential public services like hospitals, fire departments, police, and public transportation.

While prioritization inconveniences other fuel users, it helps maintain critical infrastructure operation.

Seek Fuel Delivery Alternatives

When normal fuel barge deliveries are disrupted, Hawaii explores alternative delivery options like air freight and foreign-flagged fuel barges. For example, the state authorized foreign barges to deliver fuel from Canada and other nations when Hurricane Iniki disrupted deliveries in 1992.

Alternative supply chains are costlier but help ease fuel shortages.

By conserving fuel, enabling prioritization, tapping reserves, and securing alternative supply chains, Hawaii can significantly extend fuel supplies during disruptions. Advance preparation and coastal infrastructure hardening also help Hawaii better weather fuel supply shocks when they occur.


So in summary, Hawaii relies on a network of fuel terminals, storage facilities, ocean tankers and barges working together to TRANSPORT GASOLINE over 2,500 miles across the Pacific. Careful INVENTORY PLANNING helps ensure adequate fuel reserves if a supply disruption occurs.

It’s an intricate system powering paradise in one of the world’s most remote locations.

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