Nestled in the heart of Calgary’s corporate oil and gas nexus are the offices of the Propane Gas Association of Canada (PGAC), an industry representing over 300 members in the Canadian propane industry.
As the voice of the propane industry, the PGAC offers propane safety training, emergency response capability, government advocacy and networking and professional development services. The association started in 1968 and has become the national recognized link between hundreds of propane producers, wholesalers, retailers, transporters, manufacturers of appliances, cylinders and equipment, and propane support service providers. While the PGAC represents some very large companies, a significant number of its members comprise smaller companies running propane businesses that rely on its resources to guide business strategy and keep up-to-date on industry issues and trends.
Ann Marie Hann, a Newfoundland native, is the President of the PGAC, and joined the organization in 2006. Taking the head spot at an association like the PGAC presented a number of challenges that Hann says were monumental, but important to take on for the well-being of the propane industry. Many of those challenges stemmed from a waning relationship with provincial and federal governments and a need for more communication between members.
“Communications was an area of particular importance when I joined” she explains, adding “it was important for the Association to begin to get the story about propane and our industry out there. For many of our members, they don’t have the wherewithal to undertake major communications activities on their own and to tell the positive story about the propane industry”. The PGAC sends out a regular monthly newsletter, and also daily alerts of things going on in the industry. Often, the newsletter is just a highlight, and members receive the alerts and also several bulletins that update them on a more consistent basis. Hann beams “we really focus on what our members really need to know, when they need to know it”.
The other area of focus that has grown since Hann came on board is government relations.
A voice to the government
The key for Hann was to make sure the propane industry had a proper voice within government. “One of the things I had to do when I arrived at the Association was to develop processes for identifying regulatory issues affecting the industry and soliciting member input when developing industry policy positions. We established a national regulatory industry committee and also began work at the provincial level through its regional committee structure” Hann explains. The PGAC recently hired a government relations expert to head up relationship building with provincial and national government representatives. “We wanted to build credibility. Government has to understand that working with us is a win-win situation. When we go to talk to government, we can’t be strangers. We’ve now got a voice, and a process” Hann says.
The PGAC now works more closely with members at the provincial level to learn what is happening on the ground. Oftentimes, national issues get their start at the local level. Provincial and new national committees spanning the country meet regularly several times a year to discuss pertinent industry issues. Hann attends every one, as a dedicated spokesperson for the propane industry. The association regularly develops position papers on various issues to present to government and other national partners.
Support for health and safety training
“Trying to balance the issues with such a wide interest group can be a challenge” Hann admits. “But the biggest beneficiaries are those smaller companies – we offer the most support, I’d say, in health and safety training. If you don’t have safety, big company or small, then you really don’t have anything”.
The propane industry is highly regulated to ensure safety. In Canada, anyone who handles or moves propane from one vessel to another is required to have government-recognized training. The PGAC offers this training through the Propane Training Institute, and teaches the skills needed for pump attendants at gas stations, bulk delivery, and facility transfers, among others. In total, the PGAC issues over 75 certificates each business day across Canada. Further to that, the PGAC stays on top of safety regulations and will alert companies when things change.
The PGAC also operates a subsidiary called the LPG Emergency Response Corporation, through which members can develop and implement an Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) that needs to be registered with Transport Canada. This is done so that an incident can be properly handled – though Hann reminds us that incidences are rare in the propane industry.
A great “green” alternative
Hann is happy to see that the shift towards environmental sustainability will have a positive impact on the propane industry. “Now that the focus is back on the environment, one of the discussions we’ve started with the federal government is that we can be part of the climate change solution. One of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gasses is the transportation sector, and we think that converting vehicles to propane will not only save people money but help contribute to cleaning up the environment – that’s the story we’re now developing” she explains. The challenge for the PGAC, as it stands, is getting that story out.
The benefits of propane are abundant, from an environmental standpoint. Propane burns cleaner than coal, light and heavy petroleum fuels, ethanol, and even natural gas in some cases. Propane emits fewer greenhouse gasses than gasoline, and propane-fuelled vehicles can emit up to 27 per cent less GHGs than conventional gasoline vehicles. It also emits fewer toxic substances and criteria air contaminants than gas and diesel. Propane also offers additional air quality benefits because it produces almost no soot and produces low carbon monoxide emissions.
It doesn’t hurt that the infrastructure to transport and distribute propane is already in place, and is in fact the largest infrastructure of any existing alternative fuels. So there is no need to create infrastructure that could be potentially invasive to the environment.
The facts speak for themselves
The propane industry plays a very important role in Canada’s energy mix, as propane represents upwards of 1.5 per cent of Canada’s energy supply. A recent market analysis done by the PGAC showed a $9.6 billion impact in Canada, and that figure is directly supported by over 20,000 workers whose livelihood relies on the propane industry.
From an economic standpoint, propane as a transportation fuel has been cheaper than all other fuels on a full life-cycle basis. For example, in the last 10 years propane has on average, across the country, cost 37 per cent less per litre than gasoline and 36 per cent less per litre than diesel.
The best part is – propane is abundant in Canada, and according to Hann and her colleagues there is “worlds of room for increasing the consumption of the product here, and abroad”.
Speaking of the industry abroad, the association is currently leveraging their initiatives with international partners in a variety of ways.
The international propane landscape
International issues, according to Hann, are primarily limited to relationships and the interconnection with the U.S. Currently, Canada exports 66 per cent of propane produced here to the U.S. The association therefore has to work with partners south of the border to address issues of common concern, like the development of industry technical standards and homeland security regulation. The association also endeavors to keep an eye on emerging technologies and applications that come from the U.S., and beyond. The PGAC are members of the World LP Gas Association, which works to promote LP gas throughout the world. The global association will host its 22nd World LP Gas Forum in October of this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The key remains for the PGAC to remind Canadians and international stakeholders alike that propane infrastructure is available in Canada, and we have the capability to transport, store and dispense propane safely and efficiently to all of Canada. Moreover, Canada produces 5 per cent of the world’s supply and there is a bigger market to be explored. As for harmonization with other countries, Hann says that “it’s not in the cards yet, as we have work to do on many other critical issues first”.
For more information on the PGAC, visit www.propanegas.ca.