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Halifax Auditor General Larry Munroe today issued his report on the Metro Transit fuel spill. The jaw-dropping details:

➡ In April, 2014, a car dealership on Windmill Road noticed oil in a drainage ditch, and immediately called Halifax Water, which in turn promptly investigated.

➡ Workers traced the fuel back to a ditch next to Halifax Transit’s bus barn in Burnside, and notified Halifax Transit authorities. But, even though the diesel in the ditch was distinctively coloured as the non-taxed fuel used by Halifax Transit, management said there was no way the fuel came from the garage. It would take six more weeks before Halifax Transit officials acknowledged that the fuel in fact came from the garage.

➡ The fuel had been flowing out of the garage at a rate of 40-50,000 litres a month for four or five months, with a total of 200,000 litres lost, and yet no one at Metro Transit was aware of the loss. Proper inventory control measures, wrote Munroe, “would have detected a spill in the order of 500 to 1,000 litres or more per month.” In context, Metro Transit on average uses about 40,000 litres of fuel per day for fleet operation.

➡ Metro Transit managers were aware, however, that more fuel than usual was flowing through their systems, but they chalked the loss up to an especially cold winter — buses use more fuel in the cold, they thought. Remarkably, Metro Transit tracked fuel usage only monthly, and only at the highest and least useful level of analysis possible — total cost. Halifax Transit did try to track the total fuel expense per total fleet kilometres travelled, but that did no good as it couldn’t account for a variety of vehicles, differently aged vehicles, and a fluctuating price of fuel. “Unfortunately,” wrote Munroe, “it appears plausible management would not notice this variance when they are only reviewing the expense at such a high level and unfortunately using the wrong metrics for the analysis (dollars consumed rather than actual quantities consumed).”

➡ There were other fuel inventory systems in place, but they were not reconciled. As Munroe wrote:

At Halifax Transit, the inventory deliveries, usage data and electronic tank readings were being collected at the Burnside Transit Centre however the reconciliation process was not completed. Data does not become information until it is processed in a manner to make it useful for management. Even after the spill was identified, Halifax Transit took some time to identify it was from the Burnside Transit Centre because the collected data was not interpreted through the proper reconciliation process or interpreted in a meaningful way.

➡ Environmental cleanup costs alone for the leak will exceed $2 million. Total costs associated with the leak are about $2.7 million.

➡ The lack of inventory control violated provincial environmental regulations.

Ironically, the fuel leak was related to a management concern that underground fuel tanks at Burnside could lead to undetected fuel leaks. So in 2009 and 2013 Halifax Transit installed above-ground fuel tanks and removed the in-ground tanks. But the piping for the old in-ground system wasn’t removed, and somehow — exactly how was beyond the scope of Munroe’s review — that led to the spill.

I’m told that before the new tanks were installed it was Halifax Transit’s practice to measure the fuel tanks manually every day — such measurement is standard procedure in gas stations, fuel depots, and even on airplanes; it amounts to literally sticking a measuring stick into the tank.

But when the new tanks were installed, manual measurement was ended. Halifax Transit manager Eddie Robar confirmed as much to me today, in a scrum after Munroe’s presentation.

Despite the great expense and the damage to the environment, no one has lost their job or, so far as I can determine, even been reprimanded.

The city is suing its insurance company in an attempt to recover some of the costs. CAO Richard Butts would not comment of the progress of that suit.

I recorded interviews with Munroe, Robar, Butts, and Mayor Mike Savage, and will incorporate those interviews into the Examineradio podcast this week.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. The cost saving process of no longer dipping the tanks on a daily basis obviously did not pay off. Since they had the tank dipping methodology established when they had the in the ground tanks, they had to make a conscious decision to no longer do daily tank dips…. commonsense should have told them this was a bad idea… the rule of unintended consequences rears its head once more, and far too often.

  2. Where was the Dept. of Environment in this saga – imagine if this was a small business or homeowner that was responsible for this spill – there would be no mercy.

  3. “Workers traced the fuel back to a ditch next to Halifax Transit’s bus barn in Burnside, and notified Halifax Transit authorities. But, even though the diesel in the ditch was distinctively coloured as the non-taxed fuel used by Halifax Transit, management said there was no way the fuel came from the garage.”

    Looks like management was Being Bold.

  4. You don’t expect accountability to start now, do you? Lack of accountability has been the number one problem of governance in this province for as long as I can remember. Proper accountability is not about punishing incompetence. It is about making sure the incompetents don’t hang around and do more damage.

  5. Robar must have pictures of some powerful people in compromising positions with a monkey to be this bad and still keep his job.

  6. Woooooooow. That sound you just heard was the collective head slapping of the Examiner readership.