Protest blockades in Canada disrupt product transport

March 3, 2020 By    
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Companies in Canada and some northern states have been affected by protest blockades along major rail lines in Canada. Photo:

Blockades across the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway lines delayed or completely stopped propane supply rail cars at terminals across Canada, keeping cars from reaching some northern U.S. states.

Despite losing supply imported from Canada, propane distributors in the United States banded together to use product surplus from the south to ensure continued service to customers.

Mohawk members, acting in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en, blocked the Canadian National mainline railroad in Tyendinaga, Ontario, impacting traffic between Toronto and Montreal, according to Ray Energy. They also blocked the Canadian Pacific mainline railroad in Kahnawake, Quebec, impacting traffic between Montreal and Albany.

Ray Energy reported that over 400 trains were cancelled.

“There are over 100,000 families, farms, businesses and institutions like seniors’ homes that rely on propane as their heating fuel,” says Nathalie St-Pierre, president and CEO of the Canadian Propane Association (CPA). “In addition to residential homes, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and community centers also rely on propane as a main source of fuel.” She says the blockades put all of these groups at risk.

In Quebec, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources issued an alert for all propane companies to rationalize their customers to ensure supply to priority sectors, according to the CPA. In Atlantic Canada, many family-operated propane companies worked to haul propane to customers, collecting product from a bulk facility in Sarnia, Ontario, where propane is piped in from the west. The CPA reported that supply levels were at a record low.

Leslie Anderson, president and CEO of the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE), says 100 rail cars were blocked from reaching northern Maine, as well as approximately 50 propane cars that were blocked from reaching Vermont and New Hampshire.

Anderson says that there was surplus product from propane suppliers in the south that was rerouted to the suppliers affected by the blockades.

“We’re so dependent on rail to get most of our customer products here in New England that our marketers, our suppliers and our wholesalers are using multiple sources to obtain their supply in case there’s any problem,” says Anderson. “They’re also making sure that they are bringing in as much product as they’re going to need so that they don’t have any shortages.”

Anderson says a scenario like this is one of the rare times a warm winter has a silver lining.

A wholesaler who is a member of the PGANE in Bangor, Maine, is even selling product to Canadian transports that are coming in from New Brunswick, according to Anderson.

“The lesson that you can take away from this for the industry is the importance of having multiple suppliers and being very diversified in the ways that you’re getting your product,” Anderson says. “You want to make sure you have different suppliers you’re using in case one of those suppliers is impacted for some reason. But you also need to look at how those suppliers are getting the product to you and whether they have supply points that they can divert from in the South or from other rail lines coming in through Canada where you’d be able to get that product reliably.”

As for the long-term impact, Anderson says that her main concern is for companies that dealt with the rail strike in November 2019 and also were affected by the blockades. PGANE aided those companies during the strike and continues to be ready to provide support should the blockades continue to affect product transport.

About the Author:

Sarah Peecher was a digital media content producer at LP Gas.

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