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State Leaders Look to Prevent Future Propane Shortages


State Leaders Look to Prevent Future Propane Shortages


Sue EllspermannThe propane shortage in Indiana is continuing, but conservation measures and good old Hoosier resourcefulness are helping Hoosiers get by.  Some farmers shared with their neighbors, while others turned to other sources of fuel. AJ Booher of Tippecanoe County turned to what he had: plenty of corn.  Booher said the corn stove can hold enough corn to burn for 36 hours straight. He has had a corn stove in his home for years, but this winter he added one to each of his farm buildings. Since adding them, he has hardly had to use his propane boiler and is saving money. “LP might be going for $4 or $5 a gallon, and with BTU’s making it equivalent to a bushel of corn it would make it about $12 to $15 a bushel,” Booher said. “Well, our corn that we are selling, we are getting a little over $4 a bushel.” Booher said a bushel of corn has about three times the BTUs as a gallon of propane.


Actions by federal agencies and a moderation in the weather may mean the propane crisis is nearing an end. Indiana Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann says Hoosiers have worked together to make it through a very difficult winter, “Hoosiers are sharing their resources and together we will make it through.” But now the attention turns to preventing the shortage from happening again. Ellspermann said programs and policies need to be put in place to make sure there is always enough fuel to meet the demand, “There are things we can do to keep this from happening again.” She said state officials will be working with federal officials and the Indiana congressional delegation to make changes to prevent a repeat of the shortage, “If this happened once, it could happen again. We will proactive coming out of this to look at solutions going forward.”


Even as Washington remains gripped in the clutches of another winter storm, there are calls for hearings on why the propane supply was so short. Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind said the situation calls for action, “With so many people in so many states being impacted, the first thing we need to do is have a congressional hearing to begin to look for answers.” This week, federal energy regulators issued orders to pipeline companies “to temporarily provide priority treatment to propane shipments from Mont Belvieu, Texas, to locations in the Midwest and Northeast in order to help alleviate a shortage of propane supplies in those regions.”  This is the first time that such an order has ever been issued by federal energy regulators.


Lawmakers were shocked to learn that, during the height of the fuel shortage in the Midwest, propane exports were hitting record highs.  From 2010 to 2013, propane exports averaged around 100,000 barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In May 2013, exports doubled to 200,000 per day; and, in January 2014; they were over 300,000 per day. Kind has called on the Obama administration to limit the amount of propane that is exported in order to make sure there is enough here at home when it is needed, “We are producing a lot of propane in this country, but we are shipping it to other markets.” 


Meanwhile Indiana propane companies are sending trucks across the country to find sources of propane. Shawn Coady, president at Hicksgas, with locations in Lowell and other Northwest Indiana communities, said he has trucks going to Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Mississippi for the product. Milder temperatures for the later part of February and into March may begin to relieve some of the pressure on the gas supply.