CN benefits from British Columbia’s growing propane exports

A photograph of a train on a bridge that's crossing a lake.

Three vessels carrying Canadian propane destined for international markets departed from AltaGas’ Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal on Thursday, beating a previous record by 50%, according to CN (NYSE: CNI). CN exclusively serves the facilities at the Port of Prince Rupert, which is where the AltaGas Ridley Terminal is located. 

The terminal has moved over 1 million metric tonnes of propane since it launched in May 2019. The increase in propane export volumes comes amid ongoing capacity expansions to grow propane export volumes out of British Columbia.

Usually two vessels leave the Port of Prince Rupert monthly with propane, but this week, it was three vessels, according to CN.

“CN’s investments in its Edmonton to Prince Rupert corridor continue to help support and enable strong and reliable supply chains,” said Robert Reilly, executive vice president and chief operating officer at CN. “By investing in capacity, we are supporting our customers’ ability to grow and expand to new markets.”

CN’s increase in exports comes as more companies in British Columbia are seeking to take advantage of the global market for propane. The Canada Energy Regulator (CER) said on May 20 that British Columbia is gaining in its share of propane exports, with the province shipping 64,872 barrels per day (b/d) of propane in January, compared with Alberta’s exports of 83,354 b/d.

British Columbia is the second-largest exporting province of Canadian propane due in large part to two marine export terminals at its border points: the Ridley terminal, which is the first propane export terminal on Canada’s west coast and has a capacity of 40,000 b/d, and Petrogas’ 30,000-b/d marine terminal in Ferndale, Washington, according to CER. 

Natural gas production in western Canada has also increased in recent years, enabling more propane production from natural gas processing, CER said. 

Canada’s propane exports from January to January 2020 by transport mode. Source: CER

The Ridley terminal came into service in May 2019 and is one of four propane export terminals that have been proposed for Canada’s west coast in recent years, according to a July 2019 CER market report. Others are the 25,000-b/d Prince Rupert Export Terminal on Watson Island, which is being built by Pembia and has a tentative in-service date in the first quarter of 2021; a proposed 40,000-b/d terminal also on Ridley Island that would be operated by Vopak Pacific Canada; and a proposed 46,000-b/d terminal at Kitimat, which would be operated by Pacific Traverse. The latter two facilities could come online in 2022 and 2023, respectively, but are pending regulatory approvals and final investment decisions, CER said.

The Canadian government has also been seeking to expand rail-related energy capacity in western Canada. In February, Transport Canada announced plans to invest C$15 million in rail-related improvements in Alberta to reduce bottlenecks on the western Canadian rail network along sites near  energy production facilities.