Providing just-in-time service can be a little difficult when your operation comes eye-to-eye with a major hurricane, but Dufour Petroleum LP (DPI) of Petal, Mississippi, didn't blink in 2005 when the carrier met the challenges of Hurricane Katrina head-on.

Most trucking operations have enough to do just handling myriad responsibilities when Mother Nature is behaving herself. However, when she lost her temper and sent Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi reeling from the hurricane forces in 2005, many businesses learned if they were up to the test.

“We had no power,” Curtis Dufour III, DPI chief executive officer recalls. “Our cell phones weren't working, so we began coordinating from Bossier City (Louisiana). Our employees were working night and day guarding our facility here.”

Despite the disruption, the carrier was able to gradually get its trucks back on the road. Gasoline was acquired for employee vehicles and stored in tank trailers on site for their convenience. Generators fueled with propane provided needed power for terminal facilities. Within three to four weeks, things were back to normal and DPI learned it could weather the storm.

International option

While the hurricane was probably the most challenging aspect of the company's history, it also was asked in the 1990s to lease vehicles to US Navy and Army facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Personnel were trained to handle the tank trailers at the base and at Petal.

More recently, DPI has been expanded with the acquisition in 2008 of a trucking company in Alexandria, Louisiana. The acquisition came in response to the growing supply of natural gas liquids and crude oil, from its affiliated companies. The expansion also will enhance DPI's ability to serve its Gulf Coast customers.

DPI is a trucking and marketing subsidiary owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, LP and transports products by tank trailers and railcars from wellheads and treating, processing, and fractionation facilities to wholesale customers such as distributors, refiners, and chemical facilities. The subsidiary has marketing responsibility for all petroleum products produced by its affiliated companies' facilities throughout the United States.

“Having this access to natural gas liquids, including propane, produced by Enbridge, enables us to offer our customers consistent, dependable supply services,” says Dufour. “With this access, we are able to market over two billion gallons of natural gas liquids annually.”

Company history

All of this began in the mid-1970s when with a partner, Dufour founded Choctaw Fuels Inc, a company that marketed and transported liquid petroleum gas (LPG). After that company was sold, Dufour created Dufour Petroleum and operated it from 1988 until 1999 when the business was acquired by Midcoast Energy Resources Inc. Midcoast was absorbed by Enbridge Energy Partners, LP in 2001. During these transitions, Dufour retained responsibilities for marketing and transportation — and continues today as DPI chief executive officer.

Mike Howell, DPI general manager, looks back over the past decades and recalls the early days when DPI was just getting its wheels on the ground. “We didn't have a truck for the first couple of months,” he says. “Then a friend sold us a tractor and an MC331 tank trailer.”

“It took us forever to repay him,” Dufour says. “We had a little shop down in Purvis, Mississippi, and often worked on the vehicles outside.”

As the years passed, the company began to grow and became more involved in the refining business. By the time the Midcoast acquisition occurred, DPI had offices in Dallas, Houston and New Orleans, and offered services in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. The carrier's fleet then was composed of 43 tank trailers, as well as storage tank capacity of more than 400,000 gallons. The company also had a fleet of 40 pressurized railcars and product treating and handling equipment.

Today, DPI counts 200 tractors and 300 tank trailers in its vehicle fleet along with 55 owner operators. The company also runs 80 30,000-gallon railcars--10 owned and 70 leased. In addition to tank trailer loading racks, the Petal terminal is home to transloading facilities with 20 railcar spots served by Norfolk Southern Corp. A Mississippi River dock is available for barge service at Mayersville, Mississippi, which has two 80,000-gallon and one 10,000-gallon storage tanks for crude oil.

Truck terminals are located in Geismar, Alexandria, Eunice and Bossier City, Louisiana, and Fletcher, Oklahoma.

DPI has honed its just-in-time services throughout its years of operation, which paid off when the hurricane struck. “The only way we can demonstrate our service is through reliability,” says Howell.

Driver force

A large portion of that reliability is evident by the company's 200-driver force that covers about 17 million miles per year — and exhibits flexibility, safety, and experience, the managers say.

Don Ladner and Tim Miller oversee driver training with emphasis on company policies, Department of Transportation and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, defensive driving, hazardous materials handling, personal protective equipment, and material safety data sheets. Both drivers and mechanics are trained in slip, trip, and fall prevention programs. Mechanics receive training for confined entry conditions, as well as respirator use with emphasis on hydrogen sulfide dangers.

All drivers are trained at the Petal terminal where they spend about a week undergoing classroom instruction. After that, they receive over-the-road instruction at the terminals where they are assigned.

“We work hard to live up to our commitment to value the safety of our employees, customers, and the public,” Ladner says. “Our safety policy applies to all of our facilities and operations. We communicate this to our employees through newsletters, integrated training sessions, and safety meetings.”

Six safety meetings are conducted throughout the year with drivers required to attend a minimum of four. If they fail to attend as required, they lose their safety bonus, which is based on a point system for safety issues. Each driver who meets the criteria wins an annual safety award.

As part of its driver program, DPI uses T-Check Systems Inc for a range of fuel purchase and technology services, including a fuel card and online information related to fuel purchasing, fuel tax and log audit processing, temporary permits, and driver funds transfer.

DPI is converting an MC331 tank trailer to be used in the training program. Trainees will be able to enter the open vessel to see the interior workings, as well as training with the exterior components.

“We developed our training program with a consultant and also used input from our personnel,” says Ladner. “We wanted to have a complete training program.”

Drivers are dispatched by a team at the Petal and Alexandria, Louisiana, terminals using a PeopleNet mobile communications system.

Vehicle maintenance

Another essential element of the DPI operation is its reliability through properly maintained vehicles. Terminals in Geismer, Alexandria, Eunice, Bossier City, Fletcher and Petal all have maintenance facilities. Shops have lubricant, water, and air lines installed overhead to avoid trip hazards. Radiant heat keeps the area warm in winter and is fueled with propane.

Shop personnel perform routine maintenance on tank trailers, but major vessel repairs are outsourced to Mississippi Tank Company in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Tractors receive preventive maintenance every 30 days — and like the tank trailers are outsourced for major work.

The company's Freightliner tractors are equipped with Detroit Diesel engines and Eaton 10-speed transmissions. Drum/Gardner Denver Hydrapak hydraulic pumping systems are mounted on the tractors.

DPI installed the PrePass automatic vehicle identification system on its tractors that allows them to bypass weigh stations. The carrier's safety records and credentials are routinely verified with state and federal agencies to ensure adherence to the safety and bypass criteria that is established.

Trailers with 10,000- to 11,700-gallon capacities are supplied by Mississippi Tank and have Apollo and Fisher valves, Blackmer pumps, and Corken compressors. The passive shutdown system is from Smart-Hose Technologies. DPI specifies Michelin widebase tires on new trailers. Howell says that with the new tires, vehicle weight has been reduced by 1,200 pounds and fuel economy has improved about one mile per gallon.

While the LPG trailers make up the majority of those in the fleet, the carrier operates DOT407 and MC307 trailers to haul various other products including natural gasoline, condensate and crude oil. In addition, Six MC307/DOT407 stainless steel chemical tank trailers are dedicated to a chemical company in South Louisiana and are used primarily to transport various specialty chemical products.

Future projections

Dufour predicts that the company will continue to expand its product footprint. He points out that 10 years ago about 70% of the company's service was for propane dealers. Today, that trend has changed to about 70%-80% for refineries.

“Refinery production is growing,” he adds. “We are projected to expand with that market and are considering additional crude oil and condensate services. Biodiesel transport is another possibility. That is why we must remain flexible while emphasizing our safety and experience. The propane segment of our business is all about heating and will continue to be a major focus for our future.”