Oil companies have some explaining to do
Shortage of an asphalt ingredient has hobbled isle road work and paving projects.
IT IS unclear what precipitated the shortage of an oil product that has halted paving projects in Hawaii, but government officials appear unconcerned despite the resulting loss of work for private workers and reassignment of public employees.
Governor Lingle and county leaders should seek clear answers from oil companies so the situation won't be repeated. Moreover, the shortage of liquid asphalt at a time when demand is high could increase taxpayer costs for repairing roads damaged by recent heavy rains.
Though Tesoro Hawaii has said it will expand storage capacity for liquid asphalt, there still will be a two-month wait for the facility to be retooled. Meanwhile, Tesoro remains the only refiner for the product since Chevron Hawaii's exit last year.
The shortage has caused Grace Pacific Corp., one of two major producers of asphalt in Hawaii, to lay off about 160 employees, nearly a third of its workforce. The city and state have postponed patching potholes and fixing roads, as well as routine repaving jobs.
Chevron said it told paving businesses last December that it would no longer produce the ingredient, which is mixed with aggregates to make asphalt. The company said federal regulations required refiners to make motor fuels with a lower sulfur content using a lighter crude unsuitable for also making liquid asphalt.
The company said it was not the major producer of liquid asphalt, but Tesoro told the Star-Bulletin's Nelson Daranciang that Chevron had the lion's share of Hawaii's market.
Tesoro also said it did not have the necessary oil on hand because it was unaware until last month that Chevron had stopped production.
Whatever the case, asphalt producers and contractors were either caught off guard or told only at the last minute of the shortage.
Oil companies, often the target of consumers' disfavor, do themselves no good by obscuring the circumstances of the problem. Government leaders should demand explanations since the shortage sets back vital roadwork and hurts businesses and the public.
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