Friday, January 24, 2014

Sudden Nationwide Propane Shortage

Propane heating was mysterious until I moved here and learned how to handle a propane tank, gauge, gas line and supplier. A propane tank is considered "full" at 80 percent capacity, and at 20 percent one should phone the supplier for a refill. The truck shows up in three to five days. Wait too long -- below 10 percent on the gauge -- and pay an extra $100 for emergency propane delivery. The bills (paid on delivery) are never cheap: my minimum has been $400, my maximum $880, and I fill twice a year. One hard year I sold my wedding-ring set to buy a tankful.

This cold nasty winter I've been burning that propane so yesterday I phoned for a delivery. Darn, the line was busy, and busy again and again. So I left a message and this morning at 7:55 the propane supplier phoned back and I requested $600 worth.

"Six hundred dollars will get you only about 100 gallons," said the clerk, "and our minimum delivery is 200 gallons."

"What?" I said, thinking, That's outrageous!

"We've never seen it like this," she said. Me neither! I asked if it'd be better next week. She didn't know. I refused delivery at that price and she advised me to conserve. Immediately I turned my thermostat from 64 degrees F down to 55, conserving my 25 percent (down from 80 percent in late October), and set my electric space heaters on High.

The news says propane wholesaled at $1.75 a gallon last Friday and hit $5 this week due to a sudden "nationwide shortage" that's not an actual shortage -- fracking has increased the supply. The papers say blizzards and bad roads have kept the supply from getting to the Midwest. The news also blames farmers who used a lot of propane last fall drying their wet corn (?).

I say it's a gouge, like the "energy shortage" of 1973-77, when supposedly the earth was drained of all its oil and a sweater-wearing Jimmy Carter called for sacrifice. I figure I can last two or three weeks and maybe ride out this "shortage" which will end, poof, when the state's Attorney General looks into it, which he's doing Monday. There are 5.5 million people in the US heating with propane. If the shortage were real there wouldn't be a 200-gallon minimum.

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