Environment & Energy
1:30 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Cold Weather, Natural Gas Development Make It Harder to Get Propane to Market

The brutally cold winter experienced by much of the Midwest and Northeast this year is partly to blame for higher propane prices and for making the fuel harder to come by in parts of the country.

The Pennsylvania Propane Gas Association, or PAPGA, said other factors include a decreased capacity to get the fuel from one place to another.

“There actually is a pretty strong supply of propane in the country," said PAPGA spokesman Michael Meath. "It’s not that there’s a shortage, that’s not the case at all. It’s really been a matter of moving the product.”

The issue began in the fall. Meath said the Midwest experienced a wetter-than-normal season, causing demand for propane to rise as farmers use the fuel as a drying agent for crops. Only so much propane can be stored at a time, then it ships via truck, rail or barge. Meath said the growing Marcellus Shale industry is also partly to blame for strains on the system.

“In a normal winter when not as much shale gas and other products are being moved at the same time over these railways and transport rigs, it might not have been as big an issue,” he said. “But this particular year, especially in Pennsylvania, there’s so much shale gas being moved, that created a pressure on the transportation system.”

Regulators have taken steps to try to get more propane to where it needs to be including easing restrictions on truck drivers, allowing them to drive an extra hour or two on their shifts.

“If you can get a little bit more time and be in compliance with all the regulations, then you can make more deliveries,” said Meath. “You can go get more product, because in some cases that’s what they need to do, travel to go get the product, then bring it back and get it to customers.”

Propane has a number of uses, including home heating for some. PAPGA is urging residential and industrial consumers to conserve propane. Meath said the struggle to keep up with demand will be ongoing.

“If the temperature went to 65 degrees tomorrow it isn’t going to all of a sudden go away,” he said. “That strain, that pressure on the system is going to continue a little bit more.”

Other issues affecting propane supplies in the east include delays in proposed primary storage facilities in New York and New England.