North

Bad fuel shipment 'a big part' of 2018 barge cancellations

Last year 78 rail cars full of fuel were shipped from Alberta to Hay River, then barged all the way to Norman Wells before it was discovered the fuel was bad.

Massive fuel load made it all the way to Norman Wells before it was found to be substandard

The government says Imperial Oil is covering all costs associated with a bad shipment of fuel that contributed to barge cancellations last year. (NTCL)

The Northwest Territories government is providing more information on a major delay that led to the cancellation of the barge resupply to three communities last year.

Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann said on Wednesday that 78 rail cars full of fuel were shipped from Alberta to Hay River, then barged all the way to Norman Wells before it was discovered the fuel was bad.

"I think they flew their own people up there to make sure it wasn't to spec, because if you start moving this stuff around it's going to cost millions of dollars," said Schumann.

The minister said the fuel then had to be barged back to Hay River, pumped back into rail cars and sent back to the Imperial Oil refinery in Edmonton. He said the delay was a major cause of the cancellation of barge shipments to three communities at the end of the 2018 shipping season.

"That was a big part of it," said Schumann. "When you have to bring that back down, that's two trips out of the system, which puts us behind on the rest of the fuel for the rest of the system. And they have to resupply that again. So it's like you're getting hit twice."

The government took over the barge resupply two years ago after the previous operator, Northern Transportation Company Limited, filed for bankruptcy protection. The government bought its assets for $7.5 million.

Schumann said the territorial government did not incur any costs for the bad fuel or for shipping it from, or back to, the Imperial refinery. The Infrastructure department was unable to say how much fuel was in the delivery.

Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann speaks with reporters at the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly in October 2018 in this CBC file photo. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Until yesterday, the fuel issue has only been mentioned in passing in connection with the cancellation of barge shipments to Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk and Paulatuk. A barge shipment of gasoline to Sachs Harbour was also cancelled.

The government has said only that there was a delay in receiving the fuel shipment, and that late placement of navigational buoys at the start of the season and ice conditions at the end of the season led to the cancellations.

As a result of the cancellations, at least 700,000 litres of fuel and other cargo was flown into the three communities at taxpayer expense.

Schumann was questioned about the bad fuel in the legislature yesterday by Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson, whose communities do not rely on the government's barge service for fuel resupply. CBC has a pending access to information request for all records related to last year's fuel resupply.

The Infrastructure Minister said his department is looking at fuel storage capacity in different communities on the barge route with a view to storing enough fuel to get by if there are delays in the future.

That future could be sooner rather than later. The rail line to Hay River has been shut down for more than a week due to forest fires in Alberta. Yesterday the fire destroyed the rail bridge spanning the Steen River. Water levels on Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River are unusually low this year, which could cause further problems.

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