Maritime propane supply runs low amid CN Rail shutdown

Indigenous pipeline protests in central Canada have choked off the supply of propane by rail into the Maritimes, leading to rationing and fears of running out of supply.

On Thursday evening, CN Rail, the country’s largest railway, announced it was shutting down its entire network east of Toronto because Tyendinaga Mohawk demonstrators near Belleville, Ont., had so far refused to dismantle their blockade.

Up to 85 per cent of propane arrives in the Maritime provinces by railcar and the supply is running out, said Nathalie St. Pierre, president of the Canadian Propane Association.

“You currently have about five days before you’re getting pretty close to running out, so that has a significant impact,” St. Pierre said after talking with dealers in eastern Canada Thursday afternoon.

“We’re talking about thousands of people using propane as their main fuel to heat their homes. We’re talking about lots of industries relying on propane, whether they’re commercial or institutional businesses and seniors homes. It’s getting really critical.”

Demonstrators add a sign to a trailer at the closed train tracks during a rail blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ont., on Feb.13, 2020, in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Given the dependency on rail, the region is always vulnerable to a stoppage. It happened last November during a week-long CN Rail strike. But the president of Halifax-based Wilson Fuels said at least during the strike, some rail cars were moving into the region.

“Since the blockade, there have been no movements of railcars and propane. Because it’s pressurized, it’s hard to store large quantities of propane on hand. The market really requires regular movements of propane, so this has really put us in a difficult situation,” said Ian Wilson.

Wilson is demanding the federal government step in and end the blockades, which have been organized to show solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the construction of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline through northern British Columbia.

“While some people see this as some form of legitimate protest I strongly disagree. I would say it’s more akin to terrorism frankly, because the definition of terrorism is using violence and intimidation against civilian populations to further your political views and I mean I think that’s an apt description of what’s going on,” he said.

There have been no reports of violence at the blockade sites.

‘There has to be a resolution’

St. Pierre was more diplomatic, but said the blockades must end.

“We don’t deny the right for people to protest,” she said. “It’s impeding a lot of people to get the products that they need, not just propane, but other types of commodities that they rely on. And so given that the infrastructure of rail is so important in Canada, obviously there has to be resolution of this conflict as soon as possible.”

Wilson said in light of lower inventory, rationing is taking place and the priority is customers using propane for heating.

“That’s going on in order to make things last,” he said.

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