EDMONTON, Alta. -- Diesel fuel was in shorter supply than normal across the west as September rolled over into October. And it looks as if the crunch may be an annual occurrence for diesel supplier Suncor and its Petro-Canada wing.
The shortage was reported initially by CTV News, which said the supply curtailment affected mainly Suncor’s Petro-Pass commercial customers. Suncor spokesperson Nicole Fisher admitted to Truck West that some Petro-Pass locations have, indeed, been impacted, and noted that retail stations should not be affected by the shortage. Fisher also said the issue should be resolved presently, though she remained tight lipped about specifics other than to say that “as of (Oct. 3), several Petro-Pass locations which were impacted have now received delivery and are fully operational.”
The Fall 2013 diesel dilemma may be a pain in the tank, but it’s definitely not unique. Western Canada experienced similar shortages the past two Novembers as well, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by Don Wilson, executive director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association. “It’s a little strange that it’s happening again in the fall,” he told Truck West.
The BCTA’s Louise Yako, offered a theory as to why it happens each fall. “The fall is typically when they (Suncor) conduct their annual maintenance,” she said. “But the problem is that, given the fact that they know they’re going to be conducting annual maintenance, there should be some way for them to ensure that there’s sufficient supply to cover that period.”
Yako noted that the current shortage has been limited mostly to Alberta, with some spillover into Saskatchewan, but that doesn’t mean B.C. carriers have gotten off scot-free.
“We still have carriers who operate into Alberta and unfortunately you can’t always transport in all the fuel they need,” she said.
And as much of a hassle this particular diesel crunch may be to some carriers, Yako pointed out that it isn’t as serious as some others have been, that there have been major issues such as fires at refineries in the past that have wreaked far more havoc on the trucking industry than the autumn of 2013 slowdown. That doesn’t mean she’s excusing Suncor for not having its diesel ducks in a row this year, however. “Given the fact that this is scheduled,” she reiterated, “you’d think that there something that could be done to manage the situation better than what is being done.”
The situation appears to be creating a bit of a blowback from at least some in the trucking industry. Carl Rosenau, owner of Rosenau Transport, told Truck West on Oct. 4 that while his company hadn’t been affected by the shortage, part of the reason was that “We don’t use Petro-Can.”
He noted that his supplier, Shell, “has not been affected as much, yet, but as Petro-Can runs out, their customers will switch to Shell and Esso,” and promised that “once it starts to affect me, the world will know this time!”
To Rosenau, it’s clearly a case of enough being enough. “We have got to convince the government that the producers of this product from this province must maintain agreeable minimum inventories before they can export from the province,” Rosenau said. “That is not being unreasonable.”
The AMTA’s Wilson agreed. “We need to put pressure on,” he said, hinting that it’s time to get governments - provincially at least - involved. “I think maybe we need to poke the bear through the political side at this point,” he said. “I don’t know what (the government) can do, but at least we want to make it known that we’re not happy at all.”
Like Yako and Rosenau, Wilson thinks the suppliers should be building up an ample supply before turning off the taps, and he echoed Rosenau’s thought that it might help to have some ground rules in place before crude can be pumped into pipelines for points below the 49th parallel.
“Maybe there should be a tank set up before they’re allowed to export to the US,” he said, promising to do all he can to let Suncor know of the problem and to find out what, if anything, they’re doing to have backup.
It may be an uphill battle, however; Wilson said the last time he tried dealing with the company he got “mostly lip service.”
Yako said Suncor has been issuing a daily notification about where there may be diesel fuel shortages or where there may be modified operating hours as a consequence of diesel fuel shortages, but Suncor’s Fisher wasn’t very helpful about when there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
“We understand that this is an inconvenience to our customers and we are working to minimize the impact,” she said in an e-mail. “We are also continuing to source alternate supply.”