As a major contributor to Ontario’s fuel supply, the Sarnia refinery produces products such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, as well as by-products like kerosene and asphalt.

In fact, eight per cent of the crude oil we refine ends up as asphalt. This asphalt is sold to paving companies who blend it to produce material for building roads and filling in pesky potholes. The challenge is that the only way for the refinery to get the asphalt to paving companies is via marine transportation.

“This can be a concern in the wintertime when the St. Clair River freezes up and the barge takes longer because it must make its way through ice in order to pick up the asphalt and transport it,” says Stu Powell, feedstock co-ordinator, Suncor. 

Historically, we’ve also used barges that we’ve shared with other companies. This sharing arrangement, while cost efficient, means we sometimes have to wait for a vessel to be available. Both of these factors – unreliable wintertime access and shared barges – have an impact on how quickly we’re able to move asphalt from the refinery site. And with limited storage for asphalt, daily refinery production sometimes has to be curtailed to ensure we continue to operate the refinery safely and reliably.     

Limiting our production can become a problem as fuel produced at the Sarnia refinery accounts for close to 20 per cent of Ontario’s supply. Not only is our fuel sold at Petro Canada gas stations, it’s also used to power airplanes, farm equipment, and trains and boats which transport the many goods we all use in our daily lives. A significant loss in production can decrease supply across the province, which can increase fuel prices.

After assessing a number of different options, the Suncor Sarnia refinery decided to invest in a one year lease of a barge that would be used solely for transporting asphalt from the refinery. 

Stu says assessing the options presented its own set of challenges. 

“Out of 263 asphalt-carrying boats in the world, only 25 per cent – or 65 vessels – fit our criteria. Fortunately we found the Iver Bright, one of the few ice-rated vessels out there, which was essential for us.” 

Another essential need was a boat with a crew and owner who had a safety philosophy aligned to Suncor’s value of safety above all else.
“This is how we knew the Iver Bright was a perfect fit,” recalls Suncor marine director Ashfaqul Haq.

Recently, the Iver Bright lease was extended to a second year. Now, in the middle of winter when the Canadian Coast Guard escorts vessels through the ice, the Iver Bright leads the way breaking up ice and safely transporting asphalt. This contributes to safe and reliable refinery operations, while consistently supporting the demands of the Ontario fuel market.