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Region shivers under propane shortage

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

A nationwide shortage of propane has sent prices soaring, forcing some local residents to cut back on heating during a bitterly cold winter.

United Propane Gas, which has customers in most counties of the Purchase area, has been forced to restrict its residential customers to 250 gallons per delivery. Deliveries occur about every 20 days, according to Eric Gibson, general council for UPG.  

He added that the company has suspended all deliveries to commercial customers to ensure that households have access to the fuel.

Since October, propane prices have risen by nearly 50 cents a gallon, Gibson said. The U.S. Energy Information Administration lists the price of residential propane at $2.96 a gallon, while wholesale prices are at $2.11 a gallon as of Thursday.

The recent blast of arctic weather is only partly responsible for sapping propane supplies. Agriculture and an increase in foreign exports of propane have also played a role in the shortage, Gibson said.

He said that last fall's corn harvest was more abundant than usual, meaning more propane was needed to dry the corn once it was harvested.

According to a statement issued Wednesday on the Kentucky Propane Gas Association's web site, the large, wet harvest occurred almost simultaneously over a wide area, requiring massive amounts of propane in order to be dried.

As harvest season ended, a winter storm hit much of the country, and demand for propane skyrocketed, the statement continued.

"There's no clear end in sight," Gibson said. "Obviously, the weather warming up and staying warm would be helpful to reduce the demand, but as far as the supply issues themselves, I don't really have an answer."

Gibson's best advice for customers is to conserve their propane supplies as much as they can.

The Associated Press reports that 5.5 million U.S. households heat with propane, mostly in the Midwest and South.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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