PUTNAM COUNTY — On Jan., 18, Gov. John R. Kasich issued a statewide energy emergency declaration in response to the shortage of propane gas. About six percent of Ohio households use propane for heat, according to census data. In rural counties like Putnam, propane makes up about 20 percent of home heating fuel.

The governor’s declaration was made in part to expedite shipments of propane gas. Motor carriers and drivers with valid commercial driver licenses who are transporting propane and heating oil to address transportation issues arising from severe weather, heavy snowfall, and difficult driving conditions in Ohio, will be able to drive more hours and more consecutive days than they normally would as long as they can still do so safely.

Last week the US Department of Transportation issued hours of service waivers for most of the country and transports are now traveling to the Carolinas, Mississippi, Kansas and Texas to bring propane to Ohio.

According to the Ohio Propane Gas Association (OPGA), the propane shortage is due to the diversion of Midwest propane to the Northwest last fall for crop drying, record setting temperatures in December and January in terms of cold, ice and snow, a substantial increase in exports and the December shut down of the Cochin pipeline for repairs. The Cochin pipeline system is a multi-product pipeline that operates between Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta and Windsor, Ontario, including five U.S. propane terminals.

“I don’t think you can look at any one spot. The Farmer’s Almanac said we were going to have a very cold winter, but I don’t think anybody thought we were going to have the kind of winter that we’ve had,” observed Congressman Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) during a Tuesday telephone call from Washington, D.C. “This is almost like a perfect storm hitting at the same time.”

The shortage is driving the cost of propane upward. U.S. Energy Information Administration data revealed that the Jan. 20, 2014, Ohio residential cost of propane was $2.999 per gallon compared to $2.355 per gallon on Jan 21, 2013. According to OPGA’s President, Craig Wood, and Executive Vice President, David Field, the rapid increase in the wholesale cost of propane is not the fault of local marketers, but rather the increased wholesale prices, which are driving retail prices to between three and five dollars per gallon.

Local propane gas distributors are feeling the pinch. Most propane gas companies who serve Putnam County, if not all, are not accepting new customers at present, instead reserving their supplies of the liquefied petroleum gas to people they were doing business with prior to the crisis.

In an attempt to discover how the shortage is affecting those companies, their service as well as the price per gallon of propane being charged to customers as of Jan. 27, the Putnam County Sentinel reached out to five propane suppliers whose distribution tanks are most familiar to local home and business owners.Of those who responded, none are currently accepting new customers.

Prism Propane, a subsidiary of Hancock-Wood Electric, is headquartered in North Baltimore. Diana Hersch, Prism Propane’s director of marketing and communications, said the series of events that prompted Kasich’s declaration did limit Prism’s ability to gain access to propane it previously contracted to receive via normal Ohio distribution terminals. Formerly, distribution to Prism was one to four propane gas deliveries to storage facilities per day, now reduced to one to four per week. Yet as of Monday, many Prism customers had bills below the average reflected by the EIA.

“When they sign up for delivery, we contract at a certain price that they fix,” explained Hersch. “And when we are selling it at $1.49 per gallon in the summer then they fill up the tank for that price. Most of our customers had locked in at between $1.69 and $1.89 a gallon. That’s not going to change.”

What may change, according to Hersch, is that the shortage may require Prism to attach a fuel surcharge due to the company’s need to transport propane from states away.

Lisa Cherry of Cherry’s Propane Service noted that the company was charging $3.499 per gallon to current customers on Monday.

“We also offer a five cents per gallon discount if they pay within 10 days,” said Cherry.

Suburban Propane services Putnam County customers from the company’s North Baltimore location. According to customer service at that location, Suburban Propane customers were billed $4.879 per gallon at the time of Monday’s call.

Putnam Oil and Propane, Leipsic, did not wish to respond to questions in print. Ferrellgas, with an office in Columbus Grove, could not be reached for comment.

Regardless of the cost, consumers are paying the price to winter the cold and budget for future weather extremes.

“One of things that we’ve got to make sure of is that this doesn’t happen again,” said Latta. “We can’t control the weather. As we look at the transmission, we have to make sure there’s no disruption and the fuel is out there available for everyone.”

story created on Monday 1/27/2014 at 4:59:00 pm by Anne Coburn-Griffis
story modified on Tuesday 1/28/2014 at 3:23:16 pm by Kirk Dougal