To the Sol petroleum company, we would like to extend a hearty welcome to the Cayman Islands.
Sol, which has purchased Cayman’s Esso interests, comes to Cayman a relatively short time after the Rubis company purchased the local businesses of Chevron/Texaco in late 2011. Sol’s acquisition means both of the country’s major fuel suppliers have been replaced in about a two-year span.
Sol is entering the Cayman market during what may prove to be an interesting time for the fuel sector here. Speaking Wednesday in the Legislative Assembly, Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts also broached the idea of government supporting efforts by Caribbean Utilities Company to seek lower bulk diesel prices from a potential, new, third supplier.
We hope Mr. Tibbetts’ declaration didn’t come as a shock to Rubis or Sol, considering CUC purchases about 30 million gallons of diesel per year (95 percent of Grand Cayman’s total) — 60 percent from Rubis and 40 percent from Esso (now Sol).
This wouldn’t be the first time Mr. Tibbetts has offered seemingly casual remarks in Parliament that could impact the fuel sector.
In October, Mr. Tibbetts told lawmakers he had seen some results of a government review of the fuel supply system, saying tests showed that some fuel tanks aren’t being maintained properly. “The tanks that hold the gas cause the gasoline or the diesel to be contaminated by the time it reaches the consumer,” he said — not naming any particular offenders or advising how consumers might avoid the allegedly tainted fuel or mitigate possible negative effects.
Such anecdotal statements may seem to be of little consequence but, in fact, they cast unsubstantiated doubts about companies, and their networks of retail outlets, that may well be unwarranted and, therefore, unfair or even defamatory. “I heard it on the Marl Road” might be good enough for radio talk show hosts, but out of the mouths of ministers, it can have real reputational consequences.
A few days ago, government trickled out a bit more information about its fuel quality report; not, however, by releasing the report — but by having its public relations arm, Government Information Services, issue a news release that talks generally about the report. We’re perplexed why government would initiate such a press release when the report is still in draft form.
Apparently, an analysis revealed that most fuel in Cayman meets acceptable standards. That should have been the headline: Not much of a story here, folks.
We do know that the government has shared the so-called “draft report” with the fuel companies that were investigated. However, it hasn’t been shared with the Caymanian people who, after all, paid for it.
In truth, getting to the bottom of anecdotal claims of “bad gasoline” is fiendishly difficult. There are many variables to consider, including which company imported the fuel, which gasoline stations has the consumer been visiting, which of the “symptoms” are known empirically to be caused by fuel contamination, and, of course, might common symptoms be attributable to something other than bad fuel — such as misfiring spark plugs?
The point is that a serious approach to what might be a serious problem is not facilitated by either loose talk in the Legislative Assembly or by incomplete press releases written about incomplete draft reports.