Propane industry takeaways from 2016

December 15, 2016 By    
Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

My dad owns one of those old Argus Showmaster movie projectors and a slide projector that he’s used over the years to rerun life’s key moments. Some slides show him as a young U.S. Army sergeant stationed in Korea during the 1960s. Others show his young family. Even today, he’s still discovering countless other slides in his attic.

Both the sound of the projector running the 8-millimeter filmstrip and his manual turn of the photo slides are reminders of just how many years have passed since those days depicted on the pullout screen. My dad dusted off these old machines at a recent family gathering for his kids and grandkids to see.

There’s something about the year’s end that leads us to reminisce about the past. Maybe it’s the defined manner of marking time – “Another year over. And a new one just begun,” as John Lennon sings – and our way of processing the highs and lows that we experience between those timelines.

If we were to rewind the last 12 months of the propane industry, here’s what we would see…

Year in review

A January report from the American Petroleum Institute gave propane a solid start to the new year. It showed odorized propane gallon sales trending upward for the second straight year in 2014 – the latest data available – after five straight years of gallon declines.

With the exception of maybe the West, much of the propane industry came out of an extremely mild winter that left some companies asking, “What heating season?” According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the 2015-16 winter was 15 percent warmer than the previous one, thanks in part to the warming weather event El Niño. U.S. propane inventory had reached a record 106 million barrels entering the 2015-16 heating season – supply security against added U.S. propane export capacity that strengthens our tie to international markets.

The mild winter for most didn’t seem to spoil the spring party in Nashville, Tennessee, where the Southeastern Convention & International Propane Expo was held for the first time in Music City to rave reviews. (The Propane Expo returns to the bright lights and bustling nightlife of Nashville again in 2017.)

In Nashville, the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) launched the industry’s first national consumer awareness campaign in more than six years. Likely by now you know the program, with a price tag of $10 million in its first year, features a dog named Blue. (The canine, whose owner is a “propane man,” returns in 2017 to help keep propane in front of end users.)

Retailers told us this year about some of their most pressing business concerns, with customer retention, regulatory and rule compliance, and business growth topping the list. The issues of energy competition and finding qualified employees certainly haven’t gone unnoticed, either.

The propane industry went to Washington, D.C., to lobby congressional leaders on autogas initiatives, community gas systems, regulations impacting truck drivers and more. Of course, in a presidential election year, the impending duel between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton took center stage.

The industry also went to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the opening of a propane exhibit at the National Museum of Industrial History. And speaking of 2016 celebrations, an expanded Panama Canal opened for commercial transit, and an LP gas carrier was one of the first tankers through the new locks.

The year also brought news from some of the industry’s most well-known figures.

Roy Willis, president and CEO of PERC, announced in November that he would retire in 2017 after almost 20 years serving the council. James Ferrell assumed the operations of Ferrellgas, the company founded by his father, in an interim role. And David Lugar, vice president of supply and logistics at AmeriGas and former chairman of the National Propane Gas Association board of directors and PERC, died at age 59. With Lugar, many openly expressed the loss of a true industry champion and gentleman.

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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