This was a winter to forget

March 1, 2012 By    

Like a digital slideshow that moves at a rapid pace, and you want to slow it enough to recognize what’s in front of you, the energy picture is an ever-changing phenomenon that can be difficult to follow.

This change is reflected in our everyday lives – in politics and on the news, in prices we pay to fuel our cars and heat our homes, in drilling that’s taking place in many of our backyards.

The propane industry has been talking about these changes for some time now, as it’s positioned directly in the middle of this energy debate raging in Washington, across the nation and around the globe.

The topic came to a head at NPGA’s winter committee and board meetings in January in Key West, Fla., where Inergy’s Carl Hughes, NPGA board chairman, recognized the quickening pace of these changes in the form of several questions: Why are propane prices tracking crude oil and not much-cheaper natural gas? If propane is abundantly available from shale drilling, why is its price so high? And if its price is so high, why do we continue to export it at record levels?

These questions served as an introduction to a supply-and-demand seminar that NPGA and PERC convened during the marketer and state district directors meeting. Ron Gist of Purvin & Gertz, Rusty Braziel of RBN Energy, Peter Fasullo of En*Vantage and Tom Van Buren of Ferrellgas spent about two hours on “Global Propane Supply and Demand Markets and Effects of New Shale Gas Plays.”

Video of the event and PowerPoint presentations are available on the NPGA website at A limited number of DVD copies also are available from the association.

Feeling the heat
It’s been an “historic kind of winter,” words that were echoed during the winter meetings.

The unusually warm winter across much of the country has left an unwelcome impact on the propane industry – from low volume sales, to company layoffs, to low heating costs from our competition, also due in part to the shale drilling for natural gas.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), February was the third consecutive month in which the EIA’s forecast of average household expenditures for heating fuels had been lowered because of the continuing warm weather. Propane expenditures were projected to decline by 5 percent compared to last winter, whereas back in October the EIA had predicted a 7 percent increase in propane expenditures for this winter. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cited January as the fourth warmest on record.

So what gives? An report points to the jet stream pattern. For most of the winter, the pattern has traveled west to east, with limited movement north and south, preventing the cold arctic air from traveling down into the United States. One exception is Alaska, which has experienced some extremely cold temperatures.

My notebook from Key West
Other notable developments:

■ NPGA is looking to ramp up communication efforts, to push industry news and viewpoints in front of media and policymakers and provide that “constant drumbeat in how we fit into today’s energy matrix,” said NPGA President Rick Roldan, who was given a three-year contract extension. Restrictions on PERC’s consumer education campaign have led NPGA to consider its own form of industry outreach.

■ Speaking of PERC, the council is looking to fill product development director and state liaison positions and find a firm to facilitate communications on technology.

■ AmeriGas President and CEO Gene Bissell received a standing ovation during the board meeting. He stepped down on March 2, replaced by Jerry Sheridan. The nation’s largest propane retailer acquired the third-largest retailer (Heritage Propane) in January and replaced its president in March.

■ And finally, the NPGA board approved the formation of the Women in Propane Council. Find more details on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (@WomeninPropane).

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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