There is an old saying that goes: “When the tide goes out, everyone can see who’s been swimming naked.”
As we head into the coming heating season, the embarrassment of being caught “naked” on the supply side is a real concern. U.S. inventories are at historic lows, while export capacity keeps growing. Several midstream companies have announced that, unlike in years past, they will not be holding onto spare barrels this winter. In past years, they were punished financially for keeping supply in reserve and won’t make that mistake again. Meanwhile, dealer storage capacity hasn’t grown appreciably, supply points have aged and the challenges of seasonal transportation remain.
We all remember the chaos that started in October 2013, but you may not recall the quiet sense of security that pervaded the industry in the months prior. What we didn’t know then, we certainly know now. It would not take a full-blown polar vortex this winter to throw our industry into disarray.
A traditional degree-day heating season could easily pose significant disruptions for those of us in the Midwest and throughout the United States. After two warm winters, are our customers prepared for a return to normal propane usage? Are we?
We’re right on the doorstep of the heating season, making it imperative to nail down propane supply and ensure that our customers will have product when they need and expect it. Both the National Propane Gas Association and the Propane Education & Research Council have provided several resources to encourage marketers to be proactive on supply. Ultimately, though, it comes down to each individual company to make sure it isn’t in the headlines or the governmental crosshairs due to delivery disruptions and unhappy customers.
If we didn’t learn our lessons from just a few years ago, the public will not be forgiving. The performance of every propane supplier this winter will affect more than just a single company – it will impact the trust and reliability of the industry as a whole.
So please make sure you are covered heading into the water … winter … this year. Nobody wants to see that again!
Randy Warner is president of the Missouri Propane Gas Association board of directors. He is vice president of safety for Ferrellgas and can be reached at RandyWarner@Ferrellgas.com.