DECATUR — In the midst of late harvests and early snowfall, state officials have declared a regional emergency for a propane shortage.
Because of the early winter conditions, demand for the gas is high and supply is low in Illinois and seven other states.
“It’s been really tight supply this week,” Mark Heil, general manager of Prairie Central Cooperative in Chenoa, said Friday.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s emergency declaration permits the transportation of propane, natural gas and heating oil to be used for drying wet grain and heating homes and businesses. Frigid temperatures this month mean more propane is needed to heat homes and livestock facilities.
After an already difficult year for growing and harvesting, farmers are among those most affected by the shortage.
“Farmers are struggling to dry high moisture grain caused by wet weather and delayed harvest,” said John Sullivan, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “Propane is an essential fuel for corn dryers in Illinois and across the Midwest … Gov. Pritzker, as well as the Illinois Propane Gas Association have made sure we have the resources to help farmers with this declaration.”
Heil estimates grain moisture is at about 25 percent; it is typically 18 to 20 percent. The co-op has had to move some grain to other elevators that run on natural gas “because we just don’t have the supply of propane to run the dryer.”
Farmers have been patient, waiting for the grain to dry naturally in the field, but with the winter weather, most of them are moving their harvest while demand also is increasing for those who use the gas to heat their homes, Heil said.
“It all condensed here in a narrow window here pretty quickly,” he said.
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Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin also are reporting shortages.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared a disaster emergency due to a propane supply shortage there.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed an emergency proclamation to help boost supplies by lifting restrictions on how many hours drivers can work. Trucks must wait in line for hours at propane terminals as elevators scramble to get propane for customers.
Heil said his propane suppliers have “been having a real tough time” having to wait in long lines, which delays deliveries throughout the region.
Representatives from Growmark in Bloomington said the agricultural cooperative has had to adjust its supply plan and secure propane from additional supply points “inside and outside the traditional territory.”
“While there are historically high U.S. inventories of propane, the pipeline infrastructure is maxed out and cannot fully support extreme demand periods in the Midwest,” said Carol Kitchen, vice president of energy and logistics at Growmark. “We share our customers frustrations and are doing everything we can to minimize service delays.”
With this shortage, those who use propane and fuel oil to heat their homes are at risk as the cold weather continues to move in. State officials are encouraging residents to prepare their homes for winter now.
“Being unprepared for winter weather is not just inconvenient, it can be dangerous,” said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, acting director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. “In Illinois, there are more fatalities related to cold temperatures than heat, tornadoes and floods combined.”
To prepare, Tate-Nadeau recommends putting an emergency kit in vehicles, changing furnace filters and stocking an emergency supply kit for the home.
Representatives from Nicor Gas said natural gas supply has not been affected by the shortage, though the disaster declaration also permits its transportation.
“Nicor Gas has made certain there is sufficient natural gas supply to meet the demands of our customers for safe and reliable natural gas this winter season, even on the coldest days of the year,” said Jennifer Golz, spokeswoman for the company, in a statement.
Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.