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US Propane Shortage Leads To Desperate Actions

propane shortage heating winter

Image source: elysiumnaturals.com

Both the great propane shortage of 2014 and extremely cold weather continues.

The price of the fuel, which has become a staple for many off-the-grid and rural families, has increased substantially this winter as the available supply dwindles. Areas of the South which rarely experience the need to call off school for a “snow day” are using far more propane than usual to stay warm.

In Amberg, Wisconsin, 58-year-old Sue Arganek kept her thermostat at 50 degrees Fahrenheit to conserve propane, but she finally ran out – and there is no re-supply coming.

“They said ‘I suggest you buy some electric heaters, ma’am,’ ” Arganek told NationalGeographic.com,” Well, there were no space heaters available within 70 miles. Everyone is panicking. They are buying all the heaters they can.”

On many nights, it’s 10 degrees below zero where she lives.

In Floyds Knobs, Indiana, residents are being told they won’t get a full re-fill. One family had their tank filled up only to 40 percent with no guarantee of another re-fill soon.

Propane supply problems have prompted multiple states to declare an energy state of emergency and to take action against vendors who are allegedly price gouging the dwindling supply of fuel available to the public. Taxpayer-funded aid programs designed to help low-income Americans purchase fuel have also gotten a fiscal shot in the arm in several states. If the artic chill and the shortage continues, even those who have stocked up on propane will soon be out of fuel.

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The national average for a gallon of propane is at a record $4. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released $450 million in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program money.

Propane shortages have caused increased emergency calls for both EMS medics and firefighters in rural areas. Those without fuel have resorted to heating with kerosene and using fireplaces around the clock – and in some cases a plethora of candles and oil lamps. The poor and elderly who have gone without heat for an extended period of time have drastically increased medical emergency calls. The increased price of propane has left many low-income families struggling to put enough food on the table.

Said Missouri State Senator Mike Parson:

The industry as a whole should have been prepared for this. We should be able to figure out what our supply and demand is.

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has requested that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission examine possible price gouging. Based on previous winters, most companies felt they did have enough of a propane supply to weather the 2013/2014 cold weather months.

According to an ABC News report, the propane shortage was prompted by a depletion of supply by a late fall demand from farmers who experienced a stellar crop and needed to dry an unusually large amount of grain for storage. The United States Energy Information Association statistics indicate that 5.5 million homes, primarily in rural areas, are heated by propane.

The Kentucky attorney general won an injunction against a major propane supplier that had terminated deliveries to some commercial customers in multiple states. The court order permits United Propane Gas customers to have their tanks filled by other sources without garnering permission for the supplier to do so. The company has not commented on the injunction.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed an executive order prohibiting propane price gouging. Indiana Governor Mike Pence urged farmers and other propane customers to return unused tanks to energy suppliers to help curtail the ongoing shortage. Illinois state lawmakers are in the midst of crafting a bill which would allow low-income families to purchase propane without adding to the number of recipients of the energy assistance programs. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker discussed the ongoing propane shortage with President Obama when he visited the state. Several dozen other states eased transportation rules to allow propane haulers to enjoy extended hours in order to make deliveries.

Said National Propane Gas Association representative Mollie O’Dell:

Our sense is that it’s slowly moving in a positive direction. A lot of these immediate fixes take a little bit of time to get moving.

What do you think about the propane shortage?

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