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Retailer finds alternate methods to reach off-the-grid customers

July 14, 2015 By    
Creativity is key to Crowley Petroleum's propane deliveries.

Creativity is key to Crowley Petroleum’s propane deliveries.

Developing alternative ways to transport propane to customers is a normal obstacle for Crowley Petroleum.

The company, which delivers various fuel products across the United States and focuses on the maritime logistics industry, based its propane department in Anchorage, Alaska.

David Blazejewski, director of Crowley’s petroleum terminals, says the company provides propane across Alaska to residential, industrial and commercial accounts. Yet, Crowley sometimes faces logistical challenges in deliveries because of weather or location.

“You always get some customers who are off the grid in Alaska,” Blazejewski says. “There are oil workers or miners who need fuel in remote areas. We want to help them with solutions.”

Although the traditional method of driving a bobtail to the customer is still the most common method for Crowley, the company often analyzes alternative routes.

Bruce Shales, a Crowley propane technician, says roads do not reach some of the sites to which he delivers, meaning he has to work with the customer to figure out a different delivery method. He says weather can also be a hindrance, making it necessary to plot alternative routes or different delivery methods.

“Alaska is a young state and is not as developed with roads,” Shales says. “It also seems we always have to deal with environmental factors out of our control. You have to think of nontraditional methods on how propane can be delivered safely for those customers requesting it. Quite often, we work in tandem with our customers, developing and figuring out solutions to serve them.”

Shales listed various methods he has used to deliver propane to remote locations, such as rail, barge, snowmobile, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter. While Shales has tried a variety of alternative delivery methods, he tried a new one this spring: He and another propane technician drove a bobtail onto a railcar that took them to their customers.

Crowley partnered with Alaska Railroad to service a handful of sites along the railroad that were inaccessible by road. Shales says the company was asked to deliver propane to a communication site in addition to several avalanche-control sites in close proximity to the railroad tracks.

Shales and Adam Hopper, a Crowley propane technician, drove a Crowley bobtail onto an Alaska Railroad railcar, tied the bobtail down and sat in the bobtail chassis for the 40-mile journey to the remote sites along the tracks.

Shales says the bobtail remained on the railcar for the duration of the customer visits and the tanks were filled directly from there – only 60 to 100 feet from the tracks.

“[Hopper] and I were in the bobtail as it sat on top of the railcar, riding down the tracks,” Shales says. “That was our assigned seating, and it was an incredible amount of fun. The Alaska Railroad personnel were professional and accommodating, too. I can’t say enough good things about this project.”



HEADQUARTERS: Jacksonville, Fla.

PROPANE DEPARTMENT:  Anchorage, Alaska

PROPANE SALES: 2 million annual gallons




Photo: Crowley Petroleum

About the Author:

Megan Smalley was an associate editor at LP Gas magazine.

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