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    Canada's Gasoline Shortage Spreads

    Truckers say Ontario fuel shortage is becoming "critical," no end in sight yet.

    TORONTO -- The Ontario Trucking Association warned yesterday that the big rigs used to transport everything from chickens to car parts could soon be parked on the roadside if nothing is done to alleviate Ontario's growing fuel shortage, Reuters reported.

    Tight fuel supplies have bedeviled motorists in Canada's biggest market since a fire at an Imperial Oil Ltd. refinery slashed output two weeks ago. And the situation could quickly become "critical," said David Bradley, the association's president. "We're not in a crisis situation at this moment, but things have been gradually getting worse as the days go by."

    The situation in Ontario, which accounts for about a third of Canada's demand, was aggravated by reduced transport capability, partly due to a strike at Canadian National Railway Co. The combination of factors meant dozens of gas stations across the province were forced to shut off their pumps as fuel supplies ran out, Reuters said.

    CN Rail reached a tentative contract agreement with workers on Saturday, but services were not expected to return to normal for several days. As well, Imperial has said its Nanticoke, Ontario, refinery will not return to full production until mid-March.

    Imperial is apportioning supplies to its chain of Esso gas stations and other customers. The number of Esso stations left without fuel now tops 100 and growing. An Imperial spokesman could not confirm on Tuesday how many of its stations were closed.

    Imperial hopes to help relieve the tight supply situation with several measures, including importing petroleum products where possible, the company said.

    Rival oil companies also have found their pumps running dry given the spike in demand. Shell Canada is the latest being affected by the gas shortage, according to reports from CityNews. So far, only a few of its local outlets have been affected, but it may be a sign of things to come. The company claims it's running its refineries day and night to try and meet the demand, but getting the product here hasn't been easy.

    Officials with all the big oil firms are warning it could be days before they get the shipments in to replenish the dwindling supplies and weeks before prices return to normal. Those costs are now close to or at the loonie-a-litre level, making a bad situation worse for frustrated drivers, according to media reports.

    Experts hope the return of CN conductors means new shipments from out west can start arriving by rail, but no one's willing to say when the pipeline from there will fully resume.

    A growing number of trucking companies are also reporting that their bulk storage facilities are empty, or close to being depleted, and fuel suppliers are saying relief may not come for days, Bradley added in the Reuters report.

    If the fuel shortage persists, he said, smaller firms could go out of business -- and eventually shortages would be seen on store shelves. Ninety percent of consumer products and foodstuffs are shipped by truck, he said.

    "If you started to see trucks being taken out of service because they couldn't get fuel, it would make the CN strike of the last couple of weeks look like a tea party," Bradley said.

    Supplies will likely be tight through to next week, said Steve Erwin, spokesman for Ontario's Ministry of Energy. He added consumers will be able to find gasoline, but they will be inconvenienced.

    The Ontario Trucking Association is still awaiting official word from Ottawa on a proposal to allow truckers, in the short term, to use diesel fuel normally designated for off-road use such as on farms.

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