Mobil service stations on Saipan failed to open immediately after Typhoon Soudelor hit Saipan on Aug. 3 because the terminal that distributes fuel to the service stations had one tank that was damaged by the typhoon and mitigating the leakage was of utmost importance, according to Charles Ewart, president of Mobil Oil Marianas, Inc. and Mobil Oil Guam Inc.
Ewart told Saipan Tribune yesterday that perceptions of a fuel supply shortage was not true; it was getting the fuel to the service stations in a safe manner that was the primary concern and to do that, they first had to patch the leak and contain the leakage.
“What happened was that we had an uncontrolled leak coming out of the tank and it went into the containment area…the product was going out of the tank and it was very flammable and evaporates very quickly,” Ewart said.
“So it was creating a vapor cloud that is very flammable,” he added.
Ewart said their staff, who are trained for these situation, had to use foam to put over the leakage to separate the gasoline from the environment and create a barrier between the two.
Aside from barricading the problem, another problem was the vapors that needed to be contained. Any equipment that requires ignition to operate such as generators could not be used while the vapor cloud is still in the open.
“So we had to reduce the potential of ignition sources and all electricity within the area,” Ewart said.
He said the consequences of something going wrong at the terminal could have resulted in the loss of the entire stock of fuel on Saipan and access to the terminal. It wasn’t until Aug. 5 that the problem was fixed.
“I’ve heard through the radio over and over that we’re late in opening but we we’re focused first on containing it. If something could have gone wrong, then there wouldn’t be any supplies,” he said.
“IP&E has their own terminal, which is right next to our terminal. Their terminal is downwind of the vapors and they weren’t allowed to use electricity but they could get the fuel into their trucks by gravity feed.”
“If there had been an escalation of events at our terminal, there was a high probability that the terminal would have had to close as well,” he said.
Once the issue with the terminal was solved, that’s when service stations were opened.
Yesterday Mobil opened up nine service stations. Today, Aug. 12, Ewart hopes that they would get 10 stations up.
Too much fuel
Ewart noted that there wouldn’t be any fuel shortage because the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. hasn’t used its power plant for a week.
“There is no way the amount of generators operating today are using the amount used by the power plant,” he said.
“In fact, the issue isn’t there is not enough diesel, the issue is there is too much diesel,” he said.
A supply ship is coming and Ewart hopes it comes in by Aug. 16 but not all of its supply could be offloaded.
“The ship has product ready to replenish what CUC should have purchased but CUC hasn’t purchased because the power plant hasn’t gone up…So not all the fuel would be offloaded because there isn’t enough space,” Ewart said.
Saipan gets replenished with fuel once a month. Two smaller ships go to Rota and Tinian for replenishment. The ship goes to Guam first then Saipan and other areas in the Pacific.
“If we need fuel here, we can replenish it and have a ship come here. In about four and a half weeks there would be another ship coming here,” he said.
Moving forward, when asked if Mobil has any takeaway lessons from what happened, Ewart said it is too early in the process to be planning at this time, but they will be coming up with such a plan next week.