Feb 1, 2011 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
Columbia Fuels delivers for Vancouver Island customers
PRISTINE coastlines dotted with islands, lush old-growth temperate rainforests, and majestic mountains with snow-capped peaks. These are some of the natural features forming the incredible vistas that make Vancouver Island a premier tourist destination in western Canada.
As compelling as the scenery may be, the geography can present a challenging operating environment for the petroleum haulers serving customers across the 19,356-square-mile island. While main roads are paved and well-maintained, some customers are only accessible over secondary and logging roads.
Over the past 18 years, Columbia Fuels, a division of Parkland Industries Ltd, has grown into the largest independent fuel hauler on the island. Success came from providing outstanding customer service, which includes running a reliable, well-maintained fleet of tank trucks and tank trailers. The company's 36 trucks and tractors supply customers in virtually every part of the island.
“We have about 30,000 customers across Vancouver Island, and our market share is growing,” says Charlie Beck, Columbia Fuel's regional team leader in Victoria, the largest city on Vancouver Island and the capital of British Columbia. “The future looks bright because our market on Vancouver Island is growing. We also benefit from the strength of our parent company.
“Reaching some customers means an all-day ferry or barge trip to some of the smaller islands off the coast. Our drivers also deal with mountain driving that includes grades of 6% or steeper. Because we serve virtually the entire island, vehicle reliability is critical. We run relatively new trucks and tractors. Truck and trailer dealerships handle most of our vehicle maintenance, because they have conveniently located service facilities and they can provide the service more cost effectively.”
Columbia Fuels has been serving the Vancouver Island petroleum market since 1993 and is based in Victoria. The petroleum marketer was acquired by Parkland Industries in 2009 but management makes it clear that local customer service remains the focus.
“Vancouver Island is our home, and we do our best to give our customers unparalleled local service,” Beck says. “We are the largest supplier of oil heating products and services to Vancouver Island's residential market. Columbia Fuels also services the commercial market with the largest cardlock network on the island, bulk fuel delivery capability, and lubricant distribution.”
Commercial accounts make up 80% of the business and residential customers comprise the remainder. Refined fuels handled by the company include gasoline, diesel, heating oil, stove oil (a lower grade of Jet B that burns cleaner in heaters), and aviation fuels.
While Columbia Fuels supplies a number of c-stores on Vancouver Island, the petroleum marketer doesn't operate any of its own. The company hauls aviation fuel to a number of small airports on the island.
Under a British Columbia mandate that took effect in 2010, diesel-related fuels must be blended with up to 5% biodiesel (B5). Several of Columbia Fuels' commercial customers order B20 blends, and one uses B100.
Bulk refined fuels are shipped from the mainland to the island by barge and are transferred to Columbia Fuels' 1.25-million-liter (330,200-gallon) bulk plant near Victoria. “We have the only bulk plant in the greater Victoria area,” Beck says. “We also have several 75,000-liter (20,000-gallon) storage tanks in other parts of the island.”
Bulk plant storage tanks are constructed of carbon steel, and those used for biodiesel are heated and insulated. Upgraded recently, the two-lane loading rack can deliver fuel at a rate of 1,000 liters (264 gallons) per minute to the trucks being loaded.
Columbia Fuels outfitted the rack with Toptech Systems' MultiLoad II control units with TMS 6000 automated control software. Other loading rack equipment includes OPW loading arms and couplers, Liquid Controls positive displacement meters, Scully's grounding system, and Wilcox product hoses.
Storage tanks are kept as full as possible, especially during the heating season, which lasts from October through March. Shipments from the bulk plant during the heating season range from 150,000 to 160,000 liters (39,600 to 42,260 gallons) per day.
“We try to keep our tanks at 60% to 70% full,” Beck says. “Winter storms can affect our barge shipments of fuel from the mainland, and we sometimes have to run our storage tanks dry.”
The primary job of supplying the bulk plant, as well as the company's other storage tanks, falls on four B-train combinations. The rigs haul refined fuels from storage facilities in the mid-island regions operated by Shell and Chevron Canada. A 36-ft dry van distributes bulk and packaged lubricants to commercial customers on the island. Lubricants are supplied in drums and totes.
Most of the transport tractors are Western Star 4900SA daycabs. The newest units were specified with 525-horsepower DD15 Detroit Diesel engines, Eaton Fuller 18-speed transmissions, and 46,000-lb capacity tandem drive axles. Michelin tires are preferred, because they perform well during rain and snow.
“We like Western Star because it has a good daycab configuration with plenty of interior space,” says Dave Young, Columbia Fuels fleet manager. “All of our trucks and tractors are relatively new, because some of the oldest vehicles were replaced after we were acquired by Parkland Industries.”
Also part of the upgrade effort were the tankwagons and truck-and-trailer combinations used for commercial and residential deliveries. Western Stars account for most of the trucks in the truck-and-trailer combinations, but the newest tankwagon chassis are International DuraStars with 260-hp International MaxxForce DT engines and Allison automatic transmissions.
Single-drive-axle tankwagons predominate in the fuel delivery fleet. Typical cargo tank capacity on those trucks is 10,000 liters (2,600 gallons) with the legal load capacity of approximately 8,000 liters (2,100 gallons). Truck-and-trailer units consist of an 18,000-liter (4,750-gallon) truck tank on a tandem-drive-axle chassis and 35,000-liter (9,200-gallon) four-axle pull trailer. Two- and three-axle pup trailers can carry up to 20,000 liters (5,200 gallons).
Truck-mounted cargo tanks are built by Almac International Inc and are mounted on truck chassis by the local International Truck dealer, which also handles tank repairs. Tank trailers are supplied by Advance Engineered Products Ltd and Remtec Inc. Trucks and tractors are fitted with Blackmer product pumps. Tankwagons have Liquid Controls meters, Dixon Bayco bottom-loading adapters, and Scully overfill protection.
During busy winter heating season, delivery drivers work four days on/four days off. Multiple drivers help ensure that the trucks run seven days a week. Single-axle tankwagons generally run 150 to 200 kilometers (93 to 125 miles) a day, and the tandem-axle tankwagons cover 450 to 500 kilometers (280 to 310 miles).
“Some of our trucks deliver three to four loads during a 10- to 11-hour driver shift,” Beck says. “In residential operations, our trucks typically deliver 500 to 550 liters (130 to 145 gallons) of heating oil to each customer.
“As much as possible, we encourage our residential customers to choose automatic refill, because that is very efficient and cost-effective. We saw a big shift to will call during the economic slowdown in 2009, but many customers went back to auto refill at the beginning of the 2010 heating season.
“Will-call is noticeably less efficient. With auto refill, we can build very concentrated delivery routes that drop daily driving distance for a tankwagon to as little as 60 kilometers (37 miles). Trucks on will-call routes will run at least 150 kilometers (90 miles) per day.”
Efficiency is much harder to maximize for the vehicles that deliver fuels to small communities on the many smaller islands off the coast of Vancouver Island and along the northern coast of British Columbia. In many cases, these are all-day trips.
“We serve quite a few nearby islands, and it takes a barge or ferry ride to reach these locations,” Beck says. “We also supply fuel to British Columbia communities, such as Powell River, Sechelt, and Bella Coola, that have no road links to Vancouver or other cities in the south of the province.
“We believe we have built a solid fuel distribution infrastructure that gives us the ability to meet our customers' need today and grow with them in the future. We meet our customers' needs efficiently, reliably, and safely.”
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