Propane shortages in Wyoming are causing distributors to have to drive much farther to get propane supplies, which threatens residents with possible shortages of the heating fuel — as well as higher heating costs.
With an Arctic blast rolling in this week, Gov. Mark Gordon has declared an emergency to help improve propane supplies, and issued an emergency order that suspends federal regulations that limit the hours drivers can work.
The hope is that with longer hours, drivers can find supplies of propane and Wyoming consumers can still receive deliveries.
Larry Macy, director of operations for Freedom Oilfield Services Inc., said that natural gas prices are so high now that the industry is going into “propane rejection.”
This means that the cost of pulling the propane liquids from a natural gas stream isn’t economical.
“It’s cheaper just to send the product down the sales line,” Macy said.
Ivy McGowan-Castleberry, communications and policy advisor for the governor’s office, said the Rocky Mountain Propane Distributors Association had contacted the governor, as well as some delivery companies, requesting help.
Randall Luthi, Gordon’s chief energy advisor, said that the reports of propane shortages, along with impending extreme weather, gave the situation some urgency.
“Gordon is always concerned about keeping fuel coming to the people of Wyoming,” Luthi said. “He wanted to make sure this order was in place before the holidays, and before the winter weather really starts to set in, which it looks like we’re going to see again this week.”
A similar situation happened during the 2020 pandemic.
McGowan-Castleberry said that when there were decreases in natural gas production and employee shortages from the pandemic, Gordon issued propane-related emergency orders.
Wyoming isn’t the only state facing the problem and responding with emergency suspensions of federal regulations. Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah issued an emergency order in that state with the same suspensions.
“We’re seeing long lines at loading facilities,” Cox said in a statement on the Utah emergency order. “This order will give drivers the flexibility they need to deliver propane safely and give consumers propane when they need it most.”
Macy said Gordon’s emergency order would allow his drivers more time to get propane supplies, but the costs will hit customers.
“We can extend our hours, but it won’t help the customer because the cost has doubled or tripled to go that far to go get (propane),” Macy said.
High Heating Costs
MoneyGeek, an online financial research resource, estimates that Wyoming has some of the highest winter heating costs of Western states.
Using data from the Energy Information Administration’s Winter Fuels Outlook report and Residential Energy Consumption Survey, MoneyGeek estimates the average monthly gas bill in Wyoming this winter will be $167. That’s behind Alaska, at $289 per month, and ahead of Utah, at $161 per month.
Nationally, Wyoming ranks 16th in monthly gas bills. Oklahoma residents have the highest estimated monthly bill, according to the report, at $301.
Gordon’s emergency order specifies that regulations regarding safety of qualified propane delivery drivers were still in effect, such as those regarding drugs and alcohol use.
The order also doesn’t allow propane companies to require fatigued drivers to operate a propane delivery truck. Any driver who requests rest has to be accommodated, according to the order.