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News

1. Gas shortage

People in Accra, Ghana are experiencing a fuel shortage this week. Unlike in Nova Scotia, their government is doing something about it. Photo: citifmonline.com/
People in Accra, Ghana are experiencing a fuel shortage this week. Unlike in Nova Scotia, their government is doing something about it. Photo: citifmonline.com

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.

New Glasgow News:

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.

Queens County Advance:

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

Scotiabank is branding a part of the old Dartmouth Common. Photo: Halifax Examiner
Scotiabank is branding a part of the old Dartmouth Common. Photo: Halifax Examiner

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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3. Food

Donair

“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.


Views

1. Pedestrians

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

To the Chronicle Herald:

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


Government

No public meetings.

On this date in 1785, Sydney was named the capital of Cape Breton.


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 8:30am Tuesday. Map: marinetraffic.com
The seas around Nova Scotia, 8:30am Tuesday. Map: marinetraffic.com

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

Responder sails to Baltimore
Atlantic Conveyor sails to Liverpool, England
BBC Manitoba sails to sea
Helene J sails to sea

The cruise ship Veendam is in port today.


Footnotes

September?????

Tim Bousquet

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

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13 Comments

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  1. RE «BAD» FOOD in our schools, that’s nothing new! Going back to MY days as a «pupil» at St.Andrew’s School in Halifax, Coca-Cola and Pepsi dictated what liquids could be sold in school canteens. The current-day version of that ridiculous situation is the awarding of Cafeteria concessions to American-based mega-corporations who classify PIZZA a «vegetable» and Ritz Crackers a «wheat» for purposes of nutritional compliance.

    With all the unemployment, all the hardship endured by LOCAL farm families and examining the chemical-laced, plastic-packaged JUNK served-up in our schools by these American corporations and which our School Boards expect us to accept as «food» it’s pretty obvious there needs to be a major shakeup.

    It’s a SICKNESS evident even in our hospitals where Real Food has been replace by par-boiled, par-baked, pre-frozen and disgustingly tasteless SLOP, most of which is dished out by Industrial Fast Food contractors whose major focus is constantly-increasing profits. It is PERFECTLY POSSIBLE to provide REAL, nourishing, and economical food in our institutions. We just need to make a little effort and not fall for the highly-contrived «lowest tender» of outfits who make a pretty decent PROFIT serving up garbage. It is inconceivable that there are no Novascotians capable of running a School Cafeteria and providing good wholesome food at a reasonable cost. In fact there ARE a few, anonymous, carefully ignored, and treasured by students and parents alike, but they’re constantly under pressure by the one-size MUST fit all number crunchers.

  2. Interestingly, there was a very cogent and believable explanation offered on CBC this morning by an Oil Industry mouthpiece. Apparently the «bad gas» the supposed reason why two full tankerloads of gasoline were diverted from Halifax was no more «bad» than 1% milk — though I don,t care for its consistency. The «BAD GAS» was simply the traditional, acceptable WINTER formulation arriving about 2 weeks early. Of course government paper-pushers had to insist that it didn’t meet the SUMMER criteria and so perfectly usable gasoline was blocked from Hal;fax so that overpaid, underworked, and «entitled» government paper-pushers could exert their ‹authority».
    That it precipitated a MAJOR CRISIS of course wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow amongst that crowd.

    I have NO DOUBT it’s true — kind of goes with the territory. That person also revealed that the NS Government agency which supposedly «regulates» gasoline adds 11-million per year to the p;rice we pay at the pump, and in his estimation (and judging from the «helpless» cries emanating from that bunker, true!) it’s a TOTAL waste of money.

  3. Tim, I just wanted to say that I have really been enjoying The Examiner a lot in the last few weeks. You have really been producing great articles that are unique and a great read. Thanks for your hard work, I appreciate it and it is definitely worth my $.

  4. Totally uninformed conspiracy speculation here, but I’m guessing the shortage was an intentional Imperial FU to the powers that be for invoking the interrupting clause last week to lower prices. I can only remember a single time that this had previously occurred, and it was not in a free fall market like we have today.

    The spoiled fuel argument seems suspicious at best. Why wouldn’t the fuel have been tested before leaving port? It behooves both the importer and the exporter to ensure the product is acceptable before export, otherwise the exporter risks losses on wasted shipping fees, and the importer risks interruption in an incredibly complex supply chain system, along with wasted sales opportunity. I also find it hard to believe that this is a refinery/distributor issue, as we have not heard of these shortages occurring elsewhere, while we apparently received two bad shipments in a row. The only way this would occur is if Nova Scotia was the sole recipient of fuel produced from that refinery/distributor (ludicrous), or if Nova Scotia was the closest port to that refinery/distributor and we simply have not heard of problems elsewhere yet (equally ludicrous).

    The only other source of contamination would be from the ships, which again seems incredibly unlikely. For this to have been true, the following would need to have occurred: a ship that had a clean delivery on the run before would have had to have been contaminated somehow on this specific run … and this occurred on two separate ships … in the same week … at the same port of entry … after an obviously false claim of late ships has already been debunked.

    I think we need to ask ourselves what is more likely … a visit to two different ships from the Contamination Fairy… or the deliberate delay of distribution, caused by rich assholes over some minor political point. Due to my admittedly limited life experience, I am leaning towards the latter.

    1. Or does Nova Scotia somehow have higher standards for its gas than elsewhere?

      We heard that the gas from the Saint John refinery couldn’t be used here because it has ethanol in it. Why do two neighbouring provinces have such different standards for fuel quality, when many thousands of vehicles buy gas in both of those provinces?

  5. Interesting anecdotal bit about the fuel shortage: I was taking the bridge commission shuttle last night and a rider asked “any chance the shuttles will run out of gas?” The reply from the driver was “Never, there’s no way that would ever happen.”

    Mind you, just a driver’s 2 cents, so to be taken with a grain of salt, but interesting nonetheless.

  6. I sold an old desk this morning on kijiji to a Moncton car dealership. As we were loading the desk into their pickup, I noticed they had 4 gas cans stashed in back. I asked about them and sure enough, they brought extra gas from Moncton because they were worried that they might get stranded. Ugly PR for the province.

  7. I don’t own a car but I did rent one this weekend. I was flabbergasted to go from station to station for a fill up.

    Banana Republic. Hopefully the Department of Business has some solutions. ; – )

  8. The gasoline issues is a complex one and sure to cause some hardship for some people. But let’s not forget the opportunities for smugness that all the pedestrians and cyclists got! I also think the treatment of the economics in the article are one sided. Sure, some people avoided trips here and there but some of those people probably also experienced, shopping, restaurants and entertainment closer to home, an arguable economic benefit to those communities. I agree that the total economic opportunities were lower on balance, but there is also a cost to burning gasoline. That cost is simply not part of our calculations on economic output (the cost of the gas is, but not the cost of the carbon and its effects on our climate).
    Consistently unreliable gas supply – bad. A shake-up like this – maybe a good opportunity to examine how we can live without (or with less) fossil fuels. Hopefully people learned to work from home, shop closer to home or spend some time in their neighbourhoods.

    1. The pedestrians and cyclists get a day, two, maybe even three. But then they too stop being able to eat, or get to the hospital quickly. Or have their houses not burn down.

      Unfortunately, we are decades away from the fleet of current gas/diesel vehicles migrate over to electric. It is hardly cost effective now, for most use cases, and if cars last 10 years, well, it’ll be long before we have even mostly electric cars on the road.

      And Tufts Cove burns NG and diesel. Or course, NPI running out of diesel would trigger a UARB hearing (and stiff penalties). But we are still dependent on it.

      But – random comment, not an actual proposal – if we were as motivated to build a CANDU reactor as much as we are to build the convention center, we could have a CANDU in 5 years.

      1. I’m not opposed to nuclear power in concept. But I can’t imagine a reactor being run successfully or safely in Nova Scotia.

  9. I understand that some sheds were broken into to get the gas in containers used for mowers and so on. Maybe worth a police check on this one. What a boondoggle the O&G folks are pulling. And then there is the pipeline business and how many refineries do we actually have in Canada these days? Why are we having to import the stuff via ship when we are producing O&G in our own country? Don’t get me started. I want green as much as the next person but until there’s lots more green power, we are, obviously, dependent on the O&G gang.