"We haven't really heard but we don't have any reason to think it will be a whole lot different from 2006," he says. "We'll probably adapt week to week throughout 2007 just like we did in 2006. Coal tar is the best but availability will dictate what we'll do.
"We feel we have a responsibility to our customers. These people are running a business and we feel it's our responsibility to make sure they can continue to run and grow their business successfully, so we'll do our best to provide them with the material they need to have."
Vance says contractors should offer whatever material their supplier has to sell as the relationship with the supplier will provide support regardless of what material is available.
"At this time [late November] there's not a big cost differential [between coal tar and asphalt sealers] but contractors should make sure to tell their customers what they're putting down," Vance says. "Honesty is always the best policy. Tell them you can't get coal tar so you're using a blend and explain to them what that means."
Maclean says that as of early November, sealer producers are being told there will be significant price hikes in raw material, so contractors can expect increased sealer prices.
"This industry has gone probably 15 years without any significant increase in cost, so for most folks to have a cost increase in each of the last two years and now one for the third year is something they weren't prepared for," he says.
"So it's very important that contractors evaluate their costs -- not just their sealer costs but all their costs -- and adjust their selling price accordingly."
Dubey says the coal tar sealing industry is under pressure from all sides.
"I'm concerned about what direction the coal tar business is going. How long people are going to tolerate this I don't know," Dubey says. "If I could change everything to asphalt emulsion I would do that, but there's always the potential for an asphalt shortage and potential for price issues there too."
Shift to asphalt sealers?
Dubey says STAR will continue promoting more use of asphalt-based sealers, but he acknowledges there are certain projects where asphalt sealer can't be used – such as any job where ASTM-5727-00 (or RP355e) is specified, requiring 100% coal tar sealer.
"Our efforts are more and more with asphalt sealer and we're equipping more and more plants to produce asphalt sealer. That has really been our savior," Dubey says. "My gut feeling is it's going to be difficult to secure coal tar. I think they'll run into problems again because we've seen it for the last three or four years. I don't feel secure in any way for next year."
But Coopers Creek's Morris doesn't agree.
"Suppose we toss coal tar out of the sealer business and we make petroleum-based product the sealer for the industry," he says. "We make petroleum-based resins and we bring in a lot of crude petroleum as feedstock and I guarantee you there's a lot more volatility and uncertainty in that market than there ever has been in coal tar, to the point where your supply streams are cut off literally overnight.
"Barring anything unforeseen I see 2007 looking stable and I see coal tar being around for a long, long time. For what it costs and how effective it is, it will still be around. It's a tough argument to dispute," Morris says.
Morris says he can understand the frustration of contractors, particularly small contractors who only have 26 weeks to make their living for the year and are constantly battling weather to get all the work on the books done.
"But I've got to tell you the availability of petroleum is not going to be any better and it might be worse. Who's to say we won't be looking at $100 barrels of oil sometime in the near future? And the petroleum industry is so emotional it can get cut off overnight."
What would Dubey tell new contractors who want to get into sealcoating?
"I'd tell them 'Go for it!' because the coatings industry has been very resilient," Dubey says. "Any time there has been an issue the industry has found a replacement that has been as effective and as cost-effective as what was used before. The industry is not going to shut down even if coal tar were to become scarce," he says. "The industry will find a replacement as long as the value is there, and sealcoating will continue to be used. I'd tell them in all earnestness, "Get into the business!" The materials might change but the business will be there."