Between 80 and 90 gas stations in British Columbia and Alberta ran out of fuel as Petro-Canada continues to grapple with an equipment breakdown at a refinery in Edmonton, The Canadian Press reported.
About a dozen stations were out of gasoline last week. "We did know that number would rise and we very consciously made this announcement while it was on the rise to tell people in advance," company spokeswoman Kelli Stevens told the publication.
The refinery’s catalytic cracking unit was shut down unexpectedly earlier this month, and without it Petro-Canada can’t refine petroleum products into gasoline. About 120 specialized employees are working around the clock to fix the unit.
"They feel like they’re making good progress,” Stevens said. “They don’t have a hard timeline to share on when that will be complete, but it’s important to bring it back up to operations as safely and quickly as we can."
Stevens said the company is hoping the unit may be fixed in as little as two weeks.At least one company that operates independent gas stations that buy fuel from Petro-Canada is temporarily closing at least four stations in Alberta because of the shortages.
"We were able to get through last weekend with some temporary runouts. We’ve decided that we’re better off to temporarily close a small number of stations," said John Schroeder, vice-president of Parkland Income Trust, which runs about 225 Fas Gas, Fas Gas Plus and Race Track gas stations in Western Canada.
Schroeder said the stations closing are in urban centers such as Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., but there will still be other outlets in those cities to fill up at. Parkland can also get supplies because of contracts with Shell Canada and Imperial Oil, Schroeder said.
"We’re not able to make up all the volumes that we would like to, but the fact that we have these contracts in place has given us more flexibility than we would otherwise have if we were only dealing with Petro-Canada,” he said.
Petro-Canada said it’s pulling out all the stops to make sure supplies of gasoline keep flowing. Company officials said on Petro-Canada’s website that it was able to use trucks to ship approximately 200,000 litres of gasoline per day from its Vancouver storage facility last week, but that volume has now more than quadrupled.
That’s been partially accomplished by hiring truckers from Ontario to move more product, Stevens said.
The company is also trying to find rail cars that could be pressed into service to deliver gasoline to destinations in B.C. and Alberta. "This unprecedented distribution effort has helped stabilize the situation," said company spokesman Jon Hamilton on Petro-Canada’s website.
The company also is trying to boost its gasoline supplies by looking to its other Canadian refineries and to the United States and overseas, Stevens said.
Schroeder is hoping the refinery problem will be fixed soon. "At this point we are counting on Petro-Canada to have their processing unit back up within a reasonable time so that these closures will be temporary. We have not made any decisions beyond that," he said.
Stevens warned that even when the unit is repaired, it will take some time to get the refinery back up to speed and produce at normal levels.
Some frustrated customers have taken to the Internet, accusing the energy company of deliberately causing the shortage to drive up the price of gasoline – an idea Stevens dismissed.
"You might see an impact if you had numerous refineries with an issue like this, but so far I don’t think that we’ve noticed any effect on the price."
An industry group that represents independent gasoline retailers is calling for a harmonization of gasoline standards between Canada and the U.S., which would allow for more importation of American products during shortages.