— After weeks of propane shortages and high prices during the bitterly
cold winter, some relief is coming rural residents who have dealt with
chilly homes and frustrations keeping their heating tanks filled.
propane prices have fallen for a second straight week, down from about $4
a gallon in late January to $3.76 a gallon on Feb. 10, the U.S. Energy
Information Administration said Wednesday in its weekly report.
Supplies of the
fuel that 5.5 million U.S. households, mostly in the Midwest and South,
use for heating have improved slightly due to efforts by the propane
industry, the federal government and states. But the nation's propane
supply remains low, and more blasts of winter cold would quickly send
prices back up, said Roy Willis, president and CEO of the Propane
Education & Research Council.
"It's really a
weather-driven issue — another prolonged cold snap could strain supplies
and prices for the next couple of months. Winter isn't done with us," he
said Thursday. "When stockpiles get this low, and you get below freezing
temperatures for a week to 10 days, consumption levels go up and up and
up, and prices go right along with it."
supplies were depleted by a late harvest that increased demand from
farmers who needed to dry an unusually large amount of grain before
storage. The colder-than-normal winter across much of the nation drained
propane supplies have been replenished somewhat, helping lower prices
slightly in the last couple of weeks, due to a collaboration between the
government and industry to move supplies from large propane storage areas,
primarily in the South, into the Northeast and Midwest. Propane shipments
from North Africa and Europe have also helped, he said.
supplies and warmer weather prompted Paducah, Ky.-based United Propane Gas
announced Thursday it was resuming shipping the fuel to its prepaid
customers in 10 states in the Midwest and the South days earlier than it
had anticipated. The company had temporarily halted propane shipments to
commercial customers in late January as propane supplies shrank.
have loosened up and the warm weather indicates that the end of this
national crisis may be in sight," UPG President Eric Small said in a
But for now, the
company is limiting its propane deliveries to 250 gallons per each of its
prepaid customers, who can receive additional deliveries every 15 days.
prices have also fallen slightly in the past week, dropping to about $2.61
a gallon as of Feb. 10, according to the Energy Information
Administration's latest report.
Mollie O'Dell, a
spokeswoman for the National Propane Gas Association, said the drop in
wholesale propane prices is being driven by many factors but the weather
obviously continues to be a big influence on prices.
Prices could drop
further next week thanks to an additional 500,000 barrels of propane that
are being shipped to the Midwest and the Northeast under a Tuesday order
by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
"A lot of it is
weather dependent, but the additional half a million barrels will
certainly help take some of the pressure off supplies" and help moderate
wholesale and retail prices, she said.
executive director of the Indiana Propane Gas Association, said moderating
temperatures and signs that the propane supply is stabilizing are good
signs, but propane users still need to be vigilant and conserve. He said
the low propane supplies remain a "crisis" for those who rely on the
better, but we're not out of the woods yet by far," he said.
residents Kim Casada and her husband, Charlie, are still feeling the
propane pinch. They shut off their furnace on Jan. 24 and switched to
using four electric space heaters to warm their 3-bedroom rural home south
of Muncie, Ind.
finally got a 150-gallon propane shipment on Feb. 4, but because their
supplier said he wasn't sure when they might get more propane, they
decided to keep their furnace off rely on their space heaters until early
Casada said she
and her husband have covered their windows inside with plastic to keep the
heat in and cold out and closed off their bedrooms to increase the
temperature in their living room, where they've been sleeping most nights.
They've been wearing sweaters and layered clothing to deal with indoor
temperatures in the lower 60s.
"We don't know
what else to do," Casada said. "These chilly nights, it's just really hard
and we're both exhausted. ... There are so many people in the same boat as