Federal and state officials are pushing emergency measures to get propane to people who need the gas to heat their homes in the Midwest and other regions of the country beset by persistent frigid temperatures.
The measures, which include extending working hours for truckers and ordering a pipeline company to prioritize shipments to areas with tight supplies, are meant to alleviate a propane crunch that has sent prices for the fuel to record highs in some parts of the country.
"The propane shortage has been a crisis for thousands of families and farmers in Minnesota and across the region," Sen. Al Franken, who represents the North Star State, said in a statement. He has been asking various federal agencies to help route more propane to places in need.
Governors in affected states are trying to increase propane deliveries and make funds available for residents to pay higher heating bills. In Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton expanded the state's heating assistance program to increase the number of households eligible to receive its funds by 120.000.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence waived fees for overweight propane loads for suppliers, and is asking farmers to make available whatever supplies they have leftover from the harvest-drying season.
In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper eased restrictions on how many hours drivers can work before resting, so they might be available to deliver more fuel.
An exceptionally cold winter has increased demand for propane, which is used for heating in about 116 million U.S. homes. The freezing weather isn't expected to let up in the next few days, according to forecasts from the National Weather Service that call for "dry and chilly" conditions in large swaths of the north central part of the country.
The Midwest, where 36% of households rely on propane for heat, has been hit particularly hard. Supplies in the region already were tight ahead of the winter, after farmers burned more propane than usual to dry an especially wet harvest, and were disrupted after a key pipeline shut down for repairs.
Propane inventories in the region are well below average for this time of year, data from the federal Energy Information Administration show.
After a group of Midwestern governors last week sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for help, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday ordered a pipeline company, Enterprise TE Products Pipeline Co., to give priority to shipments going from Texas to the Midwest and the Northeast. That marked the first time the agency issued such an order.
Mollie O'Dell, a spokeswoman for the National Propane Gas Association, said the decision should help, but she expects supplies to remain tight through the end of the winter because the infrastructure to deliver propane to high-demand areas is insufficient.
"At the end of the day, this is really a transportation and distribution issue," Ms. O'Dell said, adding that the problem isn't a lack of propane, but "getting that supply to those who need it the most."
You will note there is no mention of greedy speculators, like the guy I worked for over a 20 year period.