Minnesota and Wisconsin residents are again struggling with propane shortages due to the unusually harsh winter weather. It’s the second shortage in six months, and it has forced suppliers like Lakes Gas to limit refill amounts to current customers and halt sales to new customers to keep up with demand.
The shortages, which began in the fall of 2013, caused Purdue University Extension to develop a website with conservation tips for struggling consumers in the Minnesota and Wisconsin regions. Propane suppliers and users alike were scrambling to adapt and many were understandably upset.
So, how did the shortage occur?
A combination of factors – many unforeseen- contributed to the shortages. Here’s a rundown as explained by a recent news article.
More than 660,000 farmers depend on propane in their farming operations. An unusually wet harvest season in 2013 led to a surge in propane use by farmers who had to dry their crops to in order to prevent spoilage. The crops were also larger than normal and the harvest season earlier, which contributed to more propane use for drying.
Temperatures were incredibly cold this year,-50 degrees in some areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Added to that, colder weather hit sooner than normal. That caused homeowners to use more propane to heat their homes than during normal winter seasons. Record snowfalls also slowed down ground transportation of propane gas.
A prominent propane pipeline running from Canada to Minnesota and supplying 40 percent of Minnesota’s propane was shut down for three weeks of maintenance in November and December 2013. The Cochin Pipeline shutdown exacerbated the propane shortage, slowing down shipment of the gas to areas that needed it.
The pipeline will shut down for propane use permanently in April, and propane suppliers throughout the Minnesota and Wisconsin region have been preparing for that change for the last year.
U.S. exports of propane gas increased significantly during the shortage, to 408,000 barrels per day in October, from 168,000 in January, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Propane suppliers and the National Propane Gas Association are working to address the issue and increase supplies. Keep checking back with Lakes Gas for more updates.