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    Traveling With Propane: From the Earth to Your Burner

    Ever wonder where propane or LP gas comes from? There is a complicated trail that this wonderfully useful product transverses before being used by us to warm our homes, heat our water, dry our clothes, cook our food, and several other uses but let’s try to keep the high-level chemistry out of this article and make it simple.

    Propane is a derivative of crude oil and natural gas. In a complicated process known as cracking, these products are broken down and processed into more useful products such as propane. Put simply, they get the propane out of the crude oil or natural gas by “cracking” their molecules into smaller ones and then separating and refining the propane until it is clean enough for us to use. In the last few years, most of the propane sold in the United States comes from Natural gas that is produced in the United States. In fact, the U.S. has become a large exporter of Propane.

    When propane leaves the refinery, it is in a liquid form and stays that way as it travels across the country by pipeline, ship, or rail. This is an extremely beneficial attribute of this product. It can be moved and stored in a liquid state but it is used by consumers as a gas.

    Bobtail Truck

    Once the liquid propane reaches its storing location, usually an underground cavern, it will stay there until demand calls for the liquid to be sent on its way down a local pipeline. These pipelines run for hundreds of miles across different parts of our country and along these pipelines are strategically placed terminals. These terminals are where the big tanker trucks, called transports, will load themselves with 9,000 to 10,000 gallons of propane and the alerting odorant is injected into the gas as well. This odorant is the rotten egg smell that can safely alert customers to a possible leak in their gas system. These transports then bring the propane to your local gas dealer’s storage facility. These are the big white tanks that you may see, generally outside of town, surrounded by a chain-link fence. There may be only one of these big tanks or several of them connected together by piping and you may often see your local gas company’s home delivery truck, called a bobtail, and the delivery man backed up to the pump loading the truck with propane for local delivery.

    Fenced in Tanks

    It’s at this point where the most important step of this entire process comes in, the customer calling your gas company and ordering propane gas for delivery to your home.

    You may have watched your deliveryman pull the hose from the truck, make the connection to the tank, engage the pump on the bobtail, fill your tank, stop the pump, reel up the hose, and hand you your gas delivery ticket, either handwritten or more commonly today, computer-generated. Even though your deliveryman makes this look easy and effortless, he is a highly trained and qualified professional with a very high degree of safety education, mechanical, and physics knowledge and a master of customer relations.

    Even though I have simplified this process of getting propane to your home, hopefully, this will help you, the end-user, to appreciate and understand just how complicated it can be and just how easy we strive to make it.


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