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Midwest Experiences Propane Shortage Due To High Demand

The Propane Education and Research Council says propane supply isn't the issue, it's getting it to the where it's needed.

Photo: Sylvia Bao/ WFIU News

The Propane Education and Research Council says propane supply isn't the issue, it's getting it to the where it's needed.

Propane Shortage Has Been Weeks in the Making

It rained a lot this past summer. So much that it was difficult for farmers to get into their fields.  When harvest season came and farmers had to pick their crops, they came in wet.

That meant farmers had to crank up their dryers to remove the moisture, and propane powers those dryers.

Farmers used five times more propane to dry their crops last year than in 2012, so that’s the unprecedented demand, then came the logistics issues.

President and CEO at the Propane Education and Research Council, Roy Willis, says propane is produced year round but demand is very seasonal.

“What happens during the year especially the summer months, propane is stored in large salt caverns in Texas, Kansas and Alberta, Canada and smaller storage facilities around the country,” he says. “So it has to move by pipeline , rail car, large transport trucks, sometimes barges and ships to the consuming area where it’s then delivered by truck to homes and businesses individually.”

That transportation process got backed up because demand was so high.

Then Came The Polar Vortex

Trucks were delayed because of road conditions and the frigid temperatures sent demand for propane soaring as people struggled to heat their homes.

Dennis Clark, owner of Clark’s LP Gas, has been hauling propane for more than 30 years, and this is the first time he’s seen things this bad.

“This propane shortage is just like it was with the gas and fuel shortages in the 70s,” Clark says.

As he made his deliveries this week Clark wasn’t filling up his customer’s tanks. He doesn’t have enough propane so he’s rationing it and the most people can get is 200 gallons.

And to make matters worse, not only are people getting less, but they’re paying more.

“Some of them get mad,” she says. “I even have a couple that have quit, but you know there’s always them rotten apples in the barrel.”

Propane Customers Are Conserving As Price Increase And Supplies Decrease

Since October propane prices have increased about a dollar a gallon, from $1.86 to $2.85.

Alex Miracle relies on propane to heat his 8,000 square foot home, his office, and the shop where he runs his business out of.

“Fortunately we were able to get in right before the big hit came,” he says. “The shop’s about 50 percent right now so hopefully it’ll hold out till spring time or something else comes through and makes the prices down.”

In the meantime Miracle is trying to conserve what he has.

“Well right now we’ve actually got the house set at 65,” Miracle says. “We’re comfortable at 65 it’s a super insulated house, it’s not drafty so 65 is fine with us. The bulk of the house is at 60. I think that thermostat right behind you is at 62 actually in this room.”

This week when the temperatures dipped below freezing, rather than try to heat his shop, he called his employees and told them not to come in.

“Because you just don’t know where it’s goin and it’s goin to be available you know,” he says. “Hopefully I won’t need another tank.  We’re getting ready to start February, but  I’ve seen it snow in May.”

The Supply Isn’t The Problem, It’s Getting It Here

Suppliers in the U.S. produce more propane than is consumed here. But the U.S. is also the largest exporter of propane into the world markets.

The Propane Education and Research Council released a statement Wednesday in hopes of stopping fears that there is a “national propane shortage.” They’re saying the supply isn’t the problem, it’s getting it here.

Most of the Northeastern portion of the United States is covered in snow and ice, and experiencing sub-zero temperatures which makes for difficult travel. The council says they’ve mobilized all methods of transportation to assist in the delivery of propane to the area—by truck, rail, barge, and pipeline.

In the meantime the U.S. has begun importing some propane from foreign suppliers. But officials say that will likely do very little to help consumers. The big thing that needs to happen they say is for the temperature to warm up.

Right after the New Year, Governor Mike Pence waived statutes that limit the hours of service for propane transporters to allow suppliers to meet customer demands. He has extended that order through the end of the month.

To free up as much supply in the state as possible, Pence has also asked the state’s Department of Transportation trucks to switch from burning propane to diesel fuel through the first of March.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller is also keeping an eye on the spike in propane prices.

“To help protect consumers from being illegally gouged, our office is closely monitoring the price of propane sold at all levels of the market,” Zoeller said in a statement.

His office urges consumers to monitor the temperature and make the necessary adjustments to conserve the propane left in their tanks.

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