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Island gas stations run short, but transit ready to pick up the slack

A cyclist passes the Petro-Canada station on Shelbourne Street and Lansdowne Road on Friday. Drivers have been encouraged to find alternative means of transport amid fuel shortages. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST Nov. 19, 2021

Demand for gasoline continued to exceed supply in the capital region on Friday.

Erik Gault, head of operations for Peninsula Co-op, said the company had a good supply of gas at about noon Friday, but by about 3:30 p.m, eight of its 12 Victoria-area service stations were out.

Gault said Co-op was ready to comply with a new provincial rule limiting customers to 30 litres of fuel for personal vehicles per station visit, although technical changes to allow the company to control amounts might not come into effect until today or Sunday. “We’re on it with our software people.”

Gault doesn’t expect the problem of stations running out of gas to go away for up to 10 days, although he hopes things will quiet down on the weekend, when demand usually subsides, to give staff members a chance to catch their breath after a busy few days.

B.C. Transit said Friday it has enough fuel and buses to accommodate extra passengers whose vehicles have been curbed because of fuel shortages.

The provincial government is encouraging drivers to carpool and take transit as gas stations are pinched by drastically reduced fuel supply.

Transit spokeswoman Tessa Humphries said although services were delayed during flooding earlier this week on the Island, the system is running on schedule.

She said there is enough fuel in storage to continue all routes. “We will continue to monitor the situation and assess as needed,” Humphries said.

The return trip over the Malahat to Duncan starting Monday will be adjusted. Commuter buses will leave Village Green Mall in Duncan at 5:32 a.m. and 6:10 a.m., and will begin the return trip from Government and Superior in Victoria at 3:45 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.

Toronto-based fuel analyst Dan McTeague, president of Canadians For Affordable Energy, has said the fact gas prices haven’t spiked suggests the ­situation won’t be long term.

Vancouver Island should be in better shape than the Vancouver area because the barges that usually bring fuel here from the Lower Mainland can just bring it from refineries in Puget Sound instead, McTeague said.

Although those Puget Sound refineries usually get some of their feedstock from the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which remained shut down on Friday, the fact that their prices have remained stable, even dipping a bit, indicates they are not worried about their ability to source enough crude elsewhere. “No one is getting nervous about oil supply,” he said of the U.S. refineries.

About half of B.C.’s fuel comes from Alberta, by truck, train or through the Trans Mountain pipeline. On average, the pipeline carries 50,000 barrels a day of refined fuel.

The balance of the fuel we consume, about 10 per cent of the total, comes mostly from five Washington state refineries (including four within 60 kilometres of Victoria) whose combined capacity is greater than all of Alberta’s.

In addition to oil from Alaska and elsewhere shipped by tanker down Juan de Fuca Strait, the Washington refineries rely on crude from Alberta. In 2020, almost two-thirds of the product moving through the Trans Mountain pipeline was Alberta crude diverted to those Puget Sound refineries via a spur line from the Fraser Valley.

McTeague said that while the U.S. refineries should have the capacity to offset B.C.’s loss of refined product from Alberta, there could be logistical challenges moving it to the Lower Mainland, which lacks offloading facilities.

And any ongoing disruption of the flow from Alberta by rail, road or pipeline will be a problem. He called the Trans Mountain line “the aortic artery of B.C. southwest of Kamloops.”

That said, he forecast no spike in Island fuel prices soon. In fact, the price of gas arriving at the Nanaimo terminals will drop by 2.2 cents a litre on Sunday.

The Island’s biggest problem so far has been panic-buying when the Malahat was severed, he said. “If people are hoarding, you have to stop that behaviour, because it’s going to wreck the system,” McTeague said.

He also said B.C. could ease the flow of fuel from Puget Sound by dropping requirements for refiners to meet the province’s fuel standards. Refiners don’t actually send cleaner fuel here, but must shop for carbon offsets to make up for their inability to do so.

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