Rising Demands for Propane Railcar Terminals
With all the oil and gas exploration over recent years, North America has found itself sitting on more known energy reserves than ever before. The subsequent collapse in oil prices has effectively curtailed the exploration business, however, building the infrastructure to bring these resources to market is quite another challenge.
Much focus is placed on the refinement and transportation issues surrounding the major petroleum components of these new fields, but propane and other NGLs tend to get lost in the fray. These are part of the process by default, yet the issue of transporting them has become increasingly important as they require their own routes to market as well. In the past, many of these byproducts were simply flared off to get rid of them, however, in recent times the environmental aspects of flaring are coming more to the fore. Legislation to restrict flaring is forcing producers to develop infrastructure to bring these products to market. Pipeline construction is a politically hot issue and once approved, takes years to construct. Once built, these routes are generally utilized for high volume products, and propane takes a back seat. Rail is proving to be the quickest and most effective means of getting propane to market.
In years past, many small bulk plants were built with the capacity to handle 1 or 2 carloads of propane, however, rail costs of shunting single cars to remote locations proved to be uneconomical. Rail terminals are now strategically located on a rail spur which is convenient for the railroad to service, as well as being adjacent to highways where local propane marketers can come to fill their bulk transports. Modern terminals may consist of multiple large storage tanks which can store 6 or more carloads of propane with additional storage being provided on the rail siding in the cars themselves. Compressors transfer the fuel to the storage tanks and high volume pumps deliver fuel from the storage tanks through certified meters to the transports.
While terminal personnel are required to monitor the off-loading procedures, a state-of-the-art terminal allows customers to buy fuel 24/7 without an operator present. Efficiency and safety are key points of terminal designs. We design and build propane terminal control systems which monitor and regulate all aspects of terminal operation from access control when a truck enters, to printing bills of lading and transportation documents when it leaves. Access control limits site access to authorized personnel only, as well as verifying driver training and authorization to dispense fuel. Once authorized, specific tank valves, pumps and meters automatically activate and dispense a preset amount of fuel. When delivery is complete, the tank valves close, minimizing the amount of live piping in the facility. Hydrocarbon detection, pressure sensors and query timers monitor fueling operations, shutting down the operation and sending an alert to offsite personnel in the event of a problem. Operators can monitor closed circuit cameras and have the ability to shut down the terminal, receive and reset alarms, and monitor tank levels from off-site locations.
Propane is more attractively and competitively priced than ever. Propane rail terminals are a strategic connection between an excess of supply and existing and new demands that are arising from these attractive energy prices.