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Hurricane Sandy sets off a chain of events that puts the industry in motion

December 5, 2012 By    

“Help us!”

The pictures and cries for help from New York and New Jersey flash across the television screen, computer monitor and newspaper page as if they come from another time, another land or even a movie. But they are real, happening right here on our soil.

Everyone knew Hurricane Sandy – popularly dubbed a “superstorm” – was on her way to parts of the East Coast. We heard the warnings for days. And once she made landfall Oct. 29 near Atlantic City, N.J., with top sustained winds of 80 mph, we saw the destruction left in her wake.

Homes were destroyed and residents displaced. Those whose homes were saved were still left in the dark, as about 8.5 million customers on the coast lost electric power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Two refineries, major petroleum distribution terminals and pipelines also were bumped offline because of power outages and flooding. Consumer complaints before the storm of high gasoline prices turned sourly after Sandy to complaints of the region having no gas at all. Long lines formed at gasoline stations in New York and New Jersey. Rationing and fighting ensued.

As people reached out to help one another, many in the propane industry followed. Robert Nicholson III, president of New Jersey-based Eastern Propane, became a key point person in the region, spearheading state association relief efforts.

A series of conference calls were held, with more than 30 state association members participating, including all major marketers and several independents. The first questions were: Are all bulk plants in operation? Does anyone need assistance?

“I’m proud to say every single bulk plant in the state was operational, even the ones in the most affected areas,” Nicholson says.

Nicholson struggles to remember a situation of this magnitude, with such a storm and the mass power outages, but he says the industry was prepared.

Propane marketers put their versatile product to use immediately, providing the American Red Cross with fuel for shelters in hard-hit areas – one example of propane playing a role at post-Sandy relief centers.

Many propane marketers in the affected regions were busy filling tanks for generators, made possible with hours-of-service exemptions.

The storm brought generators to the forefront of sought-after products. Manufacturers Generac and Kohler announced an increased demand for their equipment. At Eastern Propane, “our phone is ringing off the hook with people wanting generators,” Nicholson says.

In New England, about 10 companies sent bobtails and trucks to help other marketers get caught up on their accounts, says Joe Rose, president of the Propane Gas Association of New England, who called it “a big spirit of cooperation.”

The same thing happened in New York, with marketers traveling to help other marketers. Even in Minnesota, reports circulated that Como Oil & Propane was sending five delivery trucks holding 40,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel to help suppliers on the East Coast.

“When crisis strikes, everybody will do what they have to do to help their neighbors,” says Barbara Roach, executive director of the New York Propane Gas Association.

Meanwhile, the unique nature of the storm brought up to 2 feet of snow to parts of West Virginia. The West Virginia Propane Gas Association utilized social media to disseminate state emergency and safety information.

“This was like a trial run, a dress rehearsal for the real thing that will be coming, we hope, in January and February,” says Tom Osina, executive director of the association.

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) also had a hand in the emergency response process, offering materials addressing hurricanes, power outages and floods. PERC President and CEO Roy Willis even authorized up to $25,000 each for the New Jersey and New York propane associations to help with response expenses in their respective states.

Pictured above: Eastern Propane personnel load donated commercial grills and relief supplies on a trailer pulled by a propane-powered Hummer for delivery to the relief centers at the New Jersey shore.

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. He can be reached at or 216-706-3748.

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About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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