While high heating bills are common in winter, a propane shortage is pushing prices even higher for some people, even leading lawmakers in Washington to call for an investigation.
“I’ve been in the propane business now almost 22 years, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it as far as a shortage. I’ve seen shortages, but short-lived. We don’t even know when this one’s going to end,” says Ken Lundy, who works for the fuel sales department at H.B. McClure Company in Harrisburg.
Lundy said a combination of factors has caused the shortage. He said propane use was higher this fall in the Midwest for drying crops and other agricultural uses. Then, there was a pipeline outage in December. On top of that, many areas are experiencing the coldest winter in years, sending demand even higher.
The average residential propane cost per gallon has skyrocketed, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nationally, the price has fluctuated dramatically, trading as high as $6 per gallon. The national average was over $4 per gallon at the end of last week, which was $1 per gallon higher than the previous week.
In Pennsylvania, the average propane residential price was $3.75 per gallon at the end of last week. That’s the highest price since EIA began keeping track in 1990. For a detailed chart, click here.
Lundy says his company is prioritizing customers, such as hospitals, to ensure people who need propane the most are getting it. The company is telling customers to conserve when possible. Lundy says in some cases if a customer has a 100-gallon tank, the company is providing half of that in order to give customers only what is needed until the shortage subsides.
“That’s pretty much everybody’s approach that’s short on supply, and almost everybody’s short on supply now,” says Lundy.
Lundy said while some customers have locked in prices for the season, that’s less common for propane than it is for customers who use home heating oil.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, asking for a review of the market to determine if the situation is being manipulated and causing prices to rise unnecessarily.
Pennsylvania transportation officials last month waived restrictions on truck drivers. In a news release, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation wrote:
“The action temporarily waives the normal federal hours of service requirements for drivers of trucks carrying these goods. Drivers usually must take a mandatory rest period after 11 hours behind the wheel. The limit for driving hours is extended to 14 hours.
“Exemption is also granted from the requirements of the 60/70-hour limits rule. The 60/70-hour limits rule requires drivers to stop driving upon accumulating 60 or 70 on-duty hours (including all on-duty and driving time) over a period of seven or eight consecutive days, respectively. Any period of seven or eight consecutive days may end with the beginning of any off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours.“