About 500 Esso stations across Western Canada could run out of gas and diesel in the next few weeks in light of reduced production at Imperial Oil's refinery near Edmonton.
Imperial Oil cancelled a scheduled 50,000-litre delivery to the Glenmore Circle Esso in southeast Calgary on Tuesday, even though the station's 16 pumps sell about 150,000 litres of gas and diesel every week.
"I have enough gas to last me until midday tomorrow, and if I run out, well, then customers will have to go to another station and we'll lose a lot of business," station manager Ardith Wood said on Thursday.
Gordon Wong, spokesman for Calgary-based Imperial Oil, said technical problems in the fuel processing unit of its refinery in Strathcona County, east of Edmonton, has led to the plant running at reduced rates.
He confirmed the cut in production could be felt at Esso retail outlets in Western Canada, from British Columbia to Manitoba.
Some filling stations in Calgary and Red Deer, Alta., had signs and yellow tape up around empty diesel and gas pumps.
Wong said Imperial has started rationing supplies with priority given to more isolated locations.
"We're looking at those sites where if it's the sole source of gasoline, we would make every effort to keep them supplied," he explained. "If, for example, it's one of four gasoline stations in a block, you know, we'd make a judgment call."
The refinery slowdown should be fixed in a few weeks, said Wong. In the meantime, Imperial is looking at other options including shifting gas from areas of low demand to buying fuel from other refineries.
Industry observers said if oil prices stay at current record levels — closing at $105.47 US a barrel Thursday — and if demand goes up in the summer driving season, motorists could soon be seeing $1.40 a litre at the pumps.