Petroleum in Real Life: Propane

It’s used for more than cooking steaks on the barbecue; for farms and remote communities, it’s an essential fuel.

Propane is a portable fuel derived from natural gas processing or oil refining. With a low environmental impact, propane is both clean and versatile. Boasting lower greenhouse gas (GHG) and particulate emissions than many other carbon-based fuels, propane is an odourless gas that, when combusted, produces clean water vapour and carbon dioxide.

While most of us think of propane as a BBQ fuel, propane has many other applications. It is used at home—for cooking, fridges and dryers and on the road—for buses, vans, and fleet vehicles. It’s used by restaurateurs to heat their patios in cold weather. It’s also used widely in agriculture—for barn heating, powering irrigation systems and grain drying; and in industry—for mining operations, metal processing and construction heating, to name a few. 

Propane storage tanks.

In Canada, across many provinces, propane is also used for home heating. It’s particularly important and rural and remote areas of our vast and often cold country, where it can be a last line of defense energy source for communities that don’t have the benefit of being connected to an urban electrical grid.

Propane is typically shipped by pipeline, and then by truck or rail to its final destination. During the CN Rail strike in November 2019, many were in fear of being left without heat as a propane shortage gripped the country and politicians scrambled to invoke emergency measures to get the trains moving again.

Environmental Benefits

Propane is clean-burning, emits virtually no air pollutants, and is safely transported and used across Canada every day.

Propane’s end-use GHG emissions are significantly lower than gasoline, diesel, coal and heating oil; it emits up to 26% fewer GHGs than gasoline in vehicles, 38% fewer GHGs than fuel oil in furnaces and half the carbon dioxide emissions of a charcoal BBQ. In terms of emissions, propane emits 60% less carbon monoxide than gasoline, 98% less particulate matter than diesel, and contains virtually no sulphur (a contributor to acid rain) or soot.

In the unlikely event of a leak, propane becomes a vapour that does not contaminate soil, air or aquifers. And as it is not itself a greenhouse gas, it has no impact on the atmosphere if accidently released prior to combustion.

Economic Benefits 

The Canadian propane industry supports 21,000 direct jobs, and each year generates more than $4.4 billion for the Canadian economy, contributing over $1 billion in taxes and royalties. About 50% of the jobs, and revenues are generated in the province of Alberta, the heartland of Canada’s propane industry.

Supply and Demand 

Canada produces around 11 million cubic metres of propane a year, mostly as a derivative of natural gas extraction—a Natural Gas Liquid (NGL) mix from natural gas at hundreds of field plants in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Around 50% of the propane produced in Canada is used domestically and the remainder is exported.