An explosion and fire Monday at the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, could potentially affect Maine’s supply of gas and heating oil.

The facility is the largest supplier of the state’s gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil.

The president of the Maine Energy Marketers Association said that until the scope of the damage is known, it’s not possible to say what, if any, impact the accident could have on the supply or price of heating fuel as the heating season begins.

“It’s premature to talk to suppliers about alternative purchasing decisions,” said Jamie Py, who was following news reports while attending an industry conference in Las Vegas. “But it’s a good thing it’s not January.”

Irving doesn’t publicly release shipping information, but has in the past estimated that three out of five vehicles in Boston run on Irving gasoline. Five years ago, the New England Petroleum Council said 70 percent of Maine’s gasoline comes from the Saint John refinery, although it also can receive fuel from refineries in New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Irving’s Saint John refinery is the largest in Canada. It produces 300,000 barrels a day of gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, exporting half of it to the Northeast through terminals that include Searsport, Portland and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In Portland Harbor, it has a major presence at the Citgo/Irving and Buckeye/Irving terminals in South Portland. A tanker was offloading a shipment Monday at the Buckeye terminal, which is connected to an Irving terminal in Bangor via an underground pipeline.

An explosion and fire Monday shook the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick, the largest supplier of Maine’s gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil. Photo by Michael Steeves

“There is a steady stream of tankers in the harbor from Irving,” said Mark Usinger, owner of the A.L. Griffin Inc., a ship chandler in Portland. “The port really depends on Irving now. They are in constant rotation.”

That tanker can hold 230,000 barrels of refined petroleum product, according to Sean Petty, the operations manager at Moran Shipping Agencies, which serves as the agent for Irving in the harbor. At this time of year, Irving tankers holding heating oil call in Portland twice a week or so, Petty said.

Petty said he hadn’t received any information yet from Irving on the status of the refinery.

“I’m watching the news, like everyone else,” he said.

The massive explosion shook the city of Saint John. Earlier Monday, which is Canada’s Thanksgiving, Irving Oil released a statement that said: “We can confirm that a major incident has occurred at our Saint John refinery this morning. We are actively assessing the situation at this time and will share more information when available.”

Canadian media reports showed flames and billowing black smoke coming from the refinery. Police were advising people to stay away from the refinery, and local hospitals were notified to be ready for a possible influx of patients, the CBC News reported.

Irving Oil said several contractors were being treated for non-life threatening injuries but that there were no fatalities.

An Irving oil tanker sails through Portland Harbor on Monday. Staff Photo by Carl D. Walsh

“We’re very grateful today – and being Thanksgiving, I think it’s appropriate,” Kevin Scott, Irving Oil’s chief refining and supply officer, told reporters at an afternoon briefing after a tense day. “Very fortunate they had only minor injuries.”

Scott said there had been a malfunction in the refinery’s diesel treating unit, where sulphur is removed from diesel fuel, the Calgary Herald reported. The unit was quickly shut down after the blast.

Scott told CBC News that Irving Oil hopes to avoid any interruptions to service.

“We’re working through all of our contingency plans in terms of supply,” he said. “Of course we have finished product in tankage at the refinery and then further out in the system in marine terminals and you know relationships with other suppliers as well that we will draw on to minimize the impact on any of our customers – in Canada or the U.S.”

Litsa Daeres, 34, who lives nearby, told The Associated Press that she had just started preparing her holiday dinner when she heard a loud bang.

“My whole house shook,” she said. “I thought my furnace had exploded.”

Daeres said she opened her curtains and saw flames and thick, black smoke.

Flames were still visible later in afternoon, and there were four separate sources of water being poured on the blaze.

The refinery is near several residential neighborhoods on Saint John’s east side.

New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization spokesman Geoffrey Downey said no evacuation orders had been issued, but there was an “order to shelter in place for anyone living in the direction of the plume.”

Nate Guimond, 36, told the AP he was doing house repairs when he saw smoke.

“I heard a rumbling, roaring sound,” Guimond said.

He decided to drive by the refinery and said he was nearby when he felt the vibrations of what he assumed must have been a second explosion.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or:

[email protected]

[email protected]

filed under: