1. Gas shortage
Over the weekend, Imperial Oil spokesperson Merle MacIsaac gave an explanation for the gasoline shortage now hitting Nova Scotia: the ships carrying the fuel showed up late, he said. As I pointed out yesterday, that excuse is clearly bogus. Ships do not unexpectedly show up “later than expected”; Imperial had at least eight days’ notice as to the arrival of the tanker Beryl, and if that timing interrupted delivery schedules, the company could’ve bought fuel on the spot market. That would have been expensive, sure.
But Dave Collins of Wilson Fuels has a more plausible explanation for the fuel shortage, reports the CBC:
He said Imperial Oil told him the first two shipments that were sent to the Dartmouth terminal — one from the Gulf of Mexico and the other from Europe — did not meet the quality specifications to be sold in Canada.
The closure of the Imperial Oil Refinery in 2013 and its conversion to a terminal is means inventories are much lower, said Collins.
“Terminals, by their very nature, are much more tenuous around supply than say a refinery is because the inventory levels in a refinery are much greater. So, is this something that will happen to us again? I guarantee we’ll be on allocation for shortages at some point in time in the next year,” he said.
He said retailers can’t just bring gas in from Irving Oil in Saint John because that fuel contains ethanol. There also aren’t enough trucks to make the journey.
Today, the CBC is reporting that “Imperial is refusing to comment” on Collins’ explanation, which probably means he’s right.
Not just one, but two bad shipments of fuel — one after another, and from entirely different parts of the world — suggests fundamental systematic problems in the oil industry.
Last night, the government issued this statement:
Service Nova Scotia Minister Mark Furey said today, Aug. 31, government is monitoring the current gas shortage and re-stocking efforts in the province, and looking at how it can be prevented in the future.
“We know this is concerning, disappointing and frustrating for Nova Scotians,” said Mr. Furey. “While this may be an anomaly with supply management, government expects industry to address and correct this swiftly, and to take measures to ensure it does not happen again in the future.”
Government regulates the cost of gasoline in Nova Scotia, but does not regulate supply. Oil companies are responsible for supply management. However, government will be implementing a gas tracking system in the coming months which will provide data that will help industry and government better monitor marketplace supply and demand.
“Industry needs to improve communication with government so we have a better warning system in place,” said Mr. Furey. “If such a shortage occurs again, industry must have a plan in place to ensure Nova Scotians can prepare in advance.”
In short: Tough luck, we’re not going to do anything about this.
When it comes to gasoline, Nova Scotia is a one company town. It doesn’t matter what the sign on the gas stations say — Wilson’s, Irving, Shell, Ultramar, PetroCan, Canadian Tire, Sobeys, etc. — all the gas comes from Imperial, the Canadian wing of Exxon Mobil. And all the gas comes through Imperial’s Dartmouth oil dock and is placed in the old storage tanks that used to be part of the refinery (which closed in 2013) before being trucked to service stations across the province.
A sensible government would enact anti-trust legislation to break Imperial’s monopolistic hold on Nova Scotia. If that’s not possible, it would impose regulatory standards for the storage of enough oil to see the province through any “hiccup” in fuel delivery.
Last night I googled “fuel shortage” without the Nova Scotia results and the top returns were about Nigeria, South Africa, and Pakistan. Congratulations, Nova Scotia! You’re now part of the Third World! Actually, that’s not fair. We’ve stopped using the term “Third World” because it implies that those countries are in some permanent state of dependency. Now the preferred term is “developing world,” which is a better description anyway because Nigeria, South Africa, and Pakistan are actually trying to develop policies to address their fuel shortages. It’s only the Nova Scotian government that throws up its hands and says it can’t take real action to intervene. So I guess we’re the un-developing world, or the dis-developing world. Or maybe we’re in a class of our own, not even a World, Third or otherwise; we’re more like a minor planet, the Fourth Asteroid, or whatever.
The fuel shortage is a big deal, and should concern us all.
Consider just the effect on tourism. The province has the explicit goal of doubling tourism revenue by 2025, which will supposedly bring prosperity forever, amen. So how’s that fuel shortage playing with the tourists? Let’s look at a couple of news reports from around the province.
Ron Hyndman, who was travelling with a group on motorcycles finally found gas at the Sharpe’s Service Station. He said they had tried three other places before they found the spot.
“We have to go all the way to Ontario so I hope the tank lasts a long time,” he said.
He said he’s never seen a gas shortage like this before.
Andrea Carmichael and her family traveled to Queens County from Toronto.
“We drove straight through yesterday and we had all these plans to go to Lunenburg and sight see, you can’t do any of that if you don’t have gas,” says Carmichael.
They’re staying at White Point Beach Resort and had planned on going to Upper Clements Park today but couldn’t commit to going that far without knowledge they could get gas.
“That was over $200 Upper Clements could have had right there,” says Carmichael.
She and her family are spending four days at the resort and then headed to Halifax to visit family.
“This is just terrible,” she says of the situation.
What message do the motorcyclists and the Carmichaels bring to their friends and family back home? “Watch out, they run out of gas in Nova Scotia.” It’s like travelling to the rain forests of the Congo, or to Outer Mongolia — better strap a bunch of extra fuel tanks to your vehicle, because you never know if the locals are going to have fuel or not.
Of more concern is the life and safety of Nova Scotians. If, as Collins thinks, we’ll see more fuel shortages, and especially in the winter, then we’re in big trouble. There’s no indication that heating oil will be a problem (but who knows?), but snow-clearing is dependent upon gasoline for pickup trucks with plows, snowblowers, ambulances, police cars, and so forth. Add a major snowstorm to a fuel shortage of three or four days, and vulnerable and remote populations are going to be at severe risk.
2. Dartmouth Common
Everyone knows about the Incredible Shrinking Halifax Common, but what about the Dartmouth Common? Most of the original Common has disappeared, but no one much talks about it. Yesterday, I wrote:
I won’t takes sides in the green space vs institutional debate. What interests me here is the shrinking of the land area of the Common. One could reasonably argue that a transit terminal is appropriate for the Common, because it serves a common, collective purpose. But how on Earth did a bank, a gas station, a McDonald’s and a strip mall get built on Common land?
And then I answered that question.
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“Hotdogs, garlic fingers and poutine were supposed to be outlawed from schools when Nova Scotia launched a lunch nutrition policy nearly a decade ago,” reports the CBC. “But those are just some of the tasty, although far from healthy morsels, Dalhousie researchers found were being served as they surveyed elementary school cafeteria and lunchroom menus across the province.”
What, no donairs????
4. Taylor Samson
Police have ended their search of property in Truro. The property is owned by the family of William Sandeson, who is charged with the murder of Dalhousie student Taylor Samson. Samson’s body has not been found.
The city should better provide for the needs of pedestrians, and the place to start is by widening the sidewalks on Spring Garden Road, says Erica Butler.
2. Cranky letter of the day
Re: the weekend gas shortage. Well, folks, we just experienced a lesson in economics. We have an oversupply of gas, but we can’t have access to it.
For those who think the government runs the country, think again. The government is just politics; big business is economics — which also kind of explains why it doesn’t really matter whom you vote for.
Electricity firms, oil companies, banks, insurance companies — these are our real leaders. But these days, $1 billion just isn’t enough profit.
To the oil companies: for a number of years now, you have been smiling from ear to ear as you carried your billions to the bank. You forced us to buy less gas. Now that the price is low, your whining and crying is almost deafening. It’s so sad that you almost have me in tears. But hey, you keep shooting yourselves in the foot. Even if you blow it right off, you still have another one. I always think, “If it weren’t for people, there would be no one else left here on Earth to screw us.”
Dave Cleveland, Bridgewater
No public meetings.
On this date in 1785, Sydney was named the capital of Cape Breton.
In the harbour
Skandi Flora, offshore supply ship, Sable Island field to Pier 27
Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro cargo, St. John’s to Pier 41
Otello, car carrier, Fawley, England to Pier 31, then to Autoport
Colombo Express, container ship, Damietta, Egypt to Fairview Cove
The cruise ship Veendam is in port today.