Midwest states declare emergency as cold blast worsens propane shortage

propane shortageThe Guardian – by Dominic Rushe

The governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, has called on President Barack Obama to act as bitter winter weather caused a shortage of propane heating fuel and a massive spike in prices in some of the coldest regions of the US.

Propane is used by more than 12m households across the country, according industry statistics, and its shortage has led to a state of emergency being declared in more than 30 states. Prices are up more than 17% from a year ago, according to the US Energy Information Administration.  

Ahead of the president’s State of the Union speech, Branstad has written to Obama expressing his concern about a crisis now sweeping the midwest: “Prices in some midwest locations have now exceeded $5 per gallon. Such prices are unsustainable for families, farmers and businesses,” he wrote.

Among other measures, he called on the president to relax transportation rules and allow drivers to work longer hours to deliver fuel while shortages continue.

Branstad’s move came after Wisconsin governor Scott Walker became the latest governor to declare a state of emergency Saturday in response to the ongoing shortages and another incoming arctic front. Sub-zero temperatures swept the midwest again this week. On Tuesday the National Weather Service reported arctic winds blowing across Iowa and southern Minnesota would hold high temperatures to between 1 degree above zero and minus 3, with a low of 3 to 10 below zero.

“The health and safety of our citizens is our number one priority, and this declaration gives us the necessary resources to protect the residents of Wisconsin,” Walker said in a statement. “I will do everything I can within my power to help our friends and loved ones relying on propane to heat their homes or businesses during this challenging situation.”

Wisconsin joined states across the country including Ohio, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota in declaring emergencies, a move that allows the states to relax transportation rules on the number of hours truck drivers can work, among other measures.

Pennsylvania-based AmeriGas, the largest US propane retailer, said last week it was rationing deliveries in parts of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee to 100 gallons per customer from the standard delivery of some 250 gallons.

Energy market analyst Phil Flynn of Price Futures Group said the crisis was more about infrastructure than supply. “We are producing near record amounts of propane,” said Flynn. “The problem with propane in the last couple of years hasn’t been shortage, it’s been oversupply.”

A series of mild winters left people unprepared for this year’s arctic blast, Flynn said. “We haven’t challenged the system in some time,” he said.

As temperatures hit record lows this year, a series of events put extra strain on the propane supply system. A record corn crop that arrived late and in a rainy period led farmers to use more than four times the propane they used in 2012 to dry their corn. The 1,900-mile-long Cochin pipeline, which carries natural gas liquids to much of the midwest, was shut for maintenance from late November to 20 December. Flynn said customers started calling for more supplies, straining deliveries at a time when transport was becoming increasingly fraught.

“We exposed all the weaknesses in the system.” Flynn said, adding that there was no end in sight until the weather warms up.


2 thoughts on “Midwest states declare emergency as cold blast worsens propane shortage

  1. Oh yea, not only has the prices went up but so has the usage also went up so it is a double whammy for sure. Most that I have talked to – and that is not many by the way – have told me that they have already hit their budget in late december. I know that I am way over what I normally go through for thewhole year. I burn wood but if had to use propane I would never be able to afford it. Yea, even the wood suppliers told me that they have ran out and that all they got is freah cut wood and theyeven raised the priceson that – wood is almost twice of what it was in past years – and that is if ya find someone that has any willing to sell it….. Yea home heating is being price gouged big time, there is no excuse for the prices tobe so high. 🙁

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