By Mary Drier
MICHIGAN — Between record snowfalls as well as below zero temperatures, those who heat with propane may not be able to find a supply; and if they can, they will have to pay more because inventories in the region are 43 percent below this time last year.
“There are many, many propane inventory and delivery issues. Those who don’t have a contract for service or are not a long-standing customer won’t be able to just go out and buy propane,” said Scott Dorman, general manager at Marlette Oil and Gas, 3875 Main St., Marlette. “Those on pre-buy and budget plans are owed some.”
Those that own tanks and shop around for the best price will have a hard time finding propane.
“And, if you can get it, it will be very expensive,” Dorman said.
The website at Parker Propane Gas Company, which is a large propane supplier in the area, shows the increase: on Jan. 4, propane was $2.299 per gallon; on Jan. 6, it started out at $2.349 and then went to $2.399; on Jan. 10, it was $2.499; on Jan. 15 it was $2.599; on Jan. 17 it was $2.649; Jan. 20 it was $2.749; and Jan. 21 it was $2.849.
As of press time, propane is listed at $2.949. A news report shows the cost of Propane in Conway, Kansas, ranges from $2.87 to $3.57 a gallon.
“The cost could well continue to increase,” cautioned Dorman who was the only propane company who would talk about the issue.
Several other propane companies in the Commission (MPSC) announced a widespread shortage of propane Monday, and the situation could get worse when a facility in Wisconsin that supplies fuel shuts down for maintenance.
Some other factors contributing to the propane shortage include a late, wet harvest season (propane is used for drying corn), extreme cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, pipeline disruptions/shutdowns, a rail closure in Canada, and difficult driving conditions throughout the U.S.
“An already tight supply of propane will get even tighter beginning next week and lasting through at least the end of the month,” said MPSC Chairman John Quackenbush in a press release. “That means propane customers in the Upper Peninsula should use their propane supplies wisely in the coming weeks by reducing usage and avoiding energy waste.”
According to national news reports, some propane companies that do have a supply may ration what they have to be able to provide propane to as many as possible so they can continue to heat their home.
On Dec. 20, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of energy emergency for propane. On January 10, he issued a second executive order declaring a state of energy emergency for both propane and heating oil through Jan. 31.
The executive orders exempt motor carriers and drivers transporting propane and heating oil within Michigan from hours-of-service regulations and requirements. Nationwide, 24 states have declared similar propane energy emergencies.
It’s estimated about 14 million households use the liquefied gas to heat homes, especially in upper Midwestern states – like Michigan and Ohio, where the shortages have had the most impact.
Propane usage will face additional challenges over the next few days as another cold front sweeps through following record setting low temperatures earlier this week.
On Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported: Gaylord’s minus 22 temperature broke the 1984 record of minus 21 degrees on Jan. 21, and in Alpena a minus 21 degree day broke the 1976 record of minus 16 degrees. In the Thumb area, Caro reported minus 11 and Bad Axe reported minus 10 degrees.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), current inventories can supply 24 days, compared with 42 days a year ago.
The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) is working to seek relief from the current supply, distribution, and infrastructure problems facing American propane customers.
Also, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a regional order for the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southern regions which will allow transporters to move propane more freely throughout the most affected regions.
The rare regional orders apply to 10 Midwest, 14 Eastern, and 9 Southern states to allow greater and quicker deliveries to rural homes and farms, several states, including Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, have suspended “hours of service on the road.
A total of 31 states so far have individually issued Hours of Service relief.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the record cold weather has caused record-high natural gas storage withdrawals, as well as propane, which are the largest drawdowns in the 20-year history of the survey and the second time this year the record has been broken.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.