By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
With the Cochin Pipeline from Canada to the U.S. shut down for repair until mid-December, semi-truck drivers delivering propane to Minnesotans have to travel further to supply the demand during colder than average weather.
The Cochin Pipeline supplies 40 percent of the propane to Minnesota. Drivers are finding themselves waiting at propane terminals in Minnesota for up to six hours and some must travel to neighboring states for the propane.
The pipeline isn’t expected to be fully back online until Dec. 20.
Gov. Mark Dayton issued an emergency executive order Monday, allowing drivers temporary relief from the regulation.
Currently, a semi-truck driver is allowed to be on duty 14 hours, can drive 11 hours a day and can drive no more than 70 hours in an eight-day period.
Roger Leider of Minnesota Propane Gas Association, said, with the pipeline closed and longer lines at remaining propane terminals, drivers are going to Iowa or other states to pick up their fuel.
“It really is pushing us pretty hard to find a place to get product,” he said. “There are just so many propane trucks and drivers, so these guys have to drive further and wait in line longer and run out of available hours to run under regulations.”
He said what the governor’s executive order does is to relieve drivers from the restrictions so they can work right through a weekend or work through a longer period of time and continue to drive truck. “They spend a lot of their time waiting in line for product,” said Leider. “They’re not actually driving that many hours, but run out of on-duty hours.”
If a driver is stuck in another area waiting for six hours, Leider said most times they will sleep during the wait.
With the executive order, drivers are relieved of that obligation to stop after on-duty time has expired, and they are able to move forward, Leider said.
“It’s kind of an interesting process, basically when we look at hours of service exemption for drivers. Companies are still responsible and drivers are responsible not to drive while fatigued,” said Leider. The obligation not to drive while fatigued and all other rules are still in place, the order just lifts the hours of service restrictions.
The order is in place for 30 days or until propane orders are caught up.
“Once the industry is caught up, drivers will go back to regular hours,” he said. “Even when the pipeline opens, there will be long lines because of the cold weather. It will take a while to catch up.”
The Minnesota Propane Gas Association represents 250 different companies, including trucking companies, propane marketing and supplies companies.