Canadian Rail Blockades Result In Propane and Goods Shortages

(March 2, 2020) — The Canadian Propane Association is urging federal and provincial governments to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that rail transportation of propane and other essential goods is not interrupted. The Association was responding to lengthy rail line blockades in eastern Canada tied to a First Nations protest against a planned natural gas pipeline. A blockade on Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ont. was stretching past its third week, shutting down rail service, including propane shipments, across much of the region.

Propane was being rationed in Atlantic Canada and Quebec as lines of trucks in Ontario awaited loading in an effort to replace at least some of the lost distribution. Canadian National Railway Co. (CN), Canada’s largest operator, sought and obtained court orders and requested the assistance of law enforcement agencies to end illegal blockades in Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia. However, as of this writing the Liberal government in Ottawa, while saying it was deeply concerned about the protests, had failed to send in the police.

As a result, CN launched a shutdown of its operations in eastern Canada. “This will include stopping and safely securing all transcontinental trains across the network and may imminently lead to temporary layoffs within the company’s eastern Canadian operational staff,” the company said in a Feb. 13 press release. “With over 400 trains canceled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protestors,” said J.J. Ruest, CN president and CEO.

On Feb. 15 the company said new blockades had sprung up, noting that “protesters put their personal safety at risk by climbing on and between railcars.” Protesters trespassed on active railway tracks and on active trains to hang banners and take photographs of themselves. “Trespassing on railway property and tampering with railway equipment is not only illegal, but also exceedingly dangerous,” Ruest commented.

The Canadian Propane Association called on officials to immediately lift all blockades—many of them unlawful. “Rail transportation is extremely important for the propane industry and for Canadians who depend on propane for their homes, businesses, farms, and fleets every day,” said association president and CEO Nathalie St-Pierre. Absent support from elected officials and law enforcement, contingency plans were put in place and the propane industry was implementing alternative transportation methods such as trucking. Observed was that these plans will not be able to address the losses caused as a result of the blockades, however.

The ongoing protests are in solidarity with a group of hereditary chiefs who are fighting the $4.8-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, reports Kallanish Energy. The 402-mile line will move gas from northeast British Columbia to Kitimat, B.C. TC Energy (Calgary), the company behind the pipeline, has signed agreements with 20 elected First Nations representatives along the route, but the hereditary chiefs say it needs their approval. The 48-in.-dia. Coastal GasLink terminus in Kitimat is where Shell and its partners are developing a liquefied natural gas export facility. The pipeline is scheduled to enter service in 2023.

(SOURCE: The Weekly Propane Newsletter, March 2, 2020. Subscribe for up-to-date propane-related news items, posted and spot prices from all major terminals and refineries around the U.S., in-deapth analysis, and more delivered to inboxes weekly)