Propane Shortage Puts Swaths of US in State of Emergency

Tuesday, 21 Jan 2014 08:52 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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A propane shortage caused by increased demand during the frigid weather has large portions of the United States in a state of emergency.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has joined counterparts Rick Snyder of Michigan, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Jan Brewer of Arizona in declaring states of emergency to expedite propane delivery.

On Sunday, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency declaration for commercial motor vehicle operations throughout the Midwest, New England, and the central Atlantic states. The interstate transport of propane is permitted under the declaration, and propane tank operators are allowed to drive more hours than usual, NBC News reports.

The DOT decision is a result of "extreme arctic cold weather conditions causing shortages and interruptions in the availability and delivery of propane and other home heating fuels."

Propane is commonly used to heat homes in areas that cannot be reached by natural gas lines. More than 14 million families use propane to fuel furnaces, water heaters, air conditioners, outdoor grills, fireplaces, driers and ranges, says the Washington-based Propane Education & Research Council.

It is also used on 865,000 U.S. farms for irrigation pumps and other farm equipment. Propane is considered an essential fuel for crop drying, fruit ripening and food refrigeration.

The cost of a gallon of propane has skyrocketed to $3.48 nationally, up nearly 20 cents in a month, says the Energy Information Administration. At $4.01 per gallon, Rhode Island's prices are the steepest, with Nebraska's the lowest at $1.92 per gallon. Prices are expected to continue to rise, at least through February.

While the polar vortex is blamed for the initial shortage, unrelated frigid air is also stretching other resources, including sand, a vital commodity needed to give vehicles traction during snow and ice storms. Costs of overtime, trucks, plows, and sand from earlier storms have battered state budgets.

Conditions aren't likely to improve anytime soon.

Fox News reported that 10 inches of snow could fall across New York City and parts of New Jersey on Tuesday, with the heaviest snowfall expected Tuesday night. Temperatures in North Dakota and parts of Minnesota plunged into the sub-zero range this week. 

That cold weather pattern is expected to stretch from Iowa to Maine this week.

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