Suppliers caught in propane pinch
Chad Dice has been able to keep his customers in Greene and Fayette counties supplied with propane to heat their homes, but only because he's rationing those with larger tanks to half their normal allotment.
“Anybody else, they've been filled up,” said Dice, who operates Bottled Gas Service in Carmichaels.
His company, a smaller supplier in the region, could come up short if the sub-zero cold weather settles in.
“It depends on how long the cold stays, but I don't believe (the company will have enough),” he said.
Other propane suppliers said they're having a hard time getting fresh supplies as the state braces for another round of brutally cold weather.
Strong demand has pushed propane prices higher.
A gallon cost $3.42 this week in Pennsylvania, an increase of 32 cents from Dec. 2 and nearly 50 cents from January 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. The national average price jumped 10.3 cents this week, the largest weekly increase in four years.
The unrelenting cold has increased the demand for propane, the primary heating source for more than 178,000 Pennsylvanians, most of them living in rural areas.
That's about 3.6 percent of the home heating market in the state; most homes use natural gas, fuel oil or electricity.
Amerigas, which operates nationwide, has been rationing in select markets, said spokesman Simon Bowman.
“The situation changes day by day,” he said. “Supply is tight, but there is propane out there. It has to be moved. Our supply people haven't slept in days.”
“Things are tough,” said Mike Conroy of Youngstown, Ohio, who has been selling propane at Youngstown Propane for 15 years. The company usually receives propane shipments daily, but lately it's been about twice a week.
“There's some available in the South, but in our area, it's hard to get,” he said. “It's been cold for so long.”
A convergence of factors this winter has exacerbated problems in the propane distribution network, according to the Pennsylvania Propane Gas Association.
An unusually wet harvesting season and a bumper corn crop in the Midwest meant farmers used more propane to dry their crops. A pipeline that traverses North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio was shut down for maintenance last month. And proposals to build storage facilities are collecting dust on the desks of government bureaucrats.
“The propane supply in the United States remains the strongest it has been in recent memory,” said Shelby Metzger, executive director of the propane association. “What Pennsylvanians are feeling are the results of a strained transportation and infrastructure system that are masquerading as a propane shortage.”
Some suppliers are faring better.
Thanks to storage put in 10 years ago after a similar shortage, Ross Welding Supplies and Propane in Fawn will have plenty of propane to last until spring, said company President Ross Grimm.
The company has 180,000 gallons in storage at locations in Greensburg, Fawn and Clinton.
“My customers will have gas; I don't have a worry in the world about it,” Grimm said. “I know a lot of people in this area who are going to run out.”
He said local Marcellus shale natural gas drillers supply about 30 percent of the propane consumed locally. The gas is separated during natural gas processing.
“They're helping, but the pipeline can only supply so much,” Grimm said.
Dave Talmage, general manager of Smith Propane and Oil, a subsidiary of Glassmere, said the company got a delivery on Thursday.
The company is fairly new in the propane business, so it doesn't have as large a customer base as “the big guys do,” he said.
But they did have to search for a good supply, Talmage said.
“I happened to get hooked in with a good supplier,” he said. “We're just trying to keep up with all the demand.”
Trib Total Media staffers Bob Stiles, Jodi Weigand and Brian Rittmyer contributed to this report. Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pennsylvania House approves increase in 911 phone bill fee to $1.65
- Family of 6 escapes just before freight train slams car in Lawrence County
- Decline in fire volunteers in Pennsylvania hits ‘crisis stage’
- Pa. state police: Crash that injured Senator Browne may be DUI
- Congressman rejects calls for recusal over romance with lobbyist
- Mother throws baby, leaps from Allentown bridge; police rescue both
- Small-town police struggle to survive as tax bases shrink
- Wolf sales tax plan would extend to museums, historical sites, zoos
- Reports grim for Pennsylvania’s state-run veterans homes
- Distracted driving arrests rise throughout Pennsylvania