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I think it is well past time for Obama to stand up and order a freeze on heating fuel prices across the areas being smacked again and again by “polar vortexes.” Much of the nation is experiencing a life threatening emergency. Yet there is silence from our President (much less any action on his part). For that matter, Washington as a whole seems to have their tongues frozen to the flag pole.
Heating prices across the board in all forms – electricity, natural gas, propane and heating oil – are all climbing. As far as I know, electric rates have not increased yet, but individuals consuming into the high usage range will be paying a penalty for additional kilowatt hours. Meanwhile, the cost of the petro-based fuels are climbing geometrically. Folks trying to survive the extreme cold are getting a double hit. First the unavoidable increased usage costs, and second, skyrocketing prices. Even the corporate shill media is reporting on the costs to consumers.
I am gobsmacked by just how quickly those costs are going up.
“Harold Hommes of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said average retail propane costs crossed the $4 per gallon mark on Thursday. That would represent more than a doubling of the average price of $2 per gallon last week.”
“We have a lot of propane in trucks and there are places that have crossed the $5-per-gallon mark,” Hommes said. “We’re up about $1.50 per gallon in the last 24 hours.” (The Gazette. “Propane Price Spike Expected to Send Heating Bills Soaring.”
“Natural gas prices spiked by nearly 10 percent on Friday to levels not seen since 2010 as another wave of freezing weather brought surges of heating and electricity demand. (NY Times, Natural Gas Prices Soar as Mercury Plummets)”
AND (emphasis mine):
“The supply-demand imbalance has already sent the spot price of some regions’ natural gas soaring more than eight times its prestorm level. Consumers aren’t likely to see a change that dramatic on their utility bills anytime soon, but these dramatic spikes do not bode well for long-term heating and electricity costs. (CMS, Winter storm Janus: Natural gas prices soar in Northeast)”
And so on.
Folks are more than struggling in much of the deep freeze area. House and apartment fires climb as folks rely on space heaters for heat. Folks huddle around their cooking stoves (assuming they are on electric and not natural gas or propane) or gas burning space heaters that result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
While those in urban areas are generally cushioned somewhat as they are more likely on natural gas than propane or heating oil, and therefore more likely on a public utility where there is often regulation about cutting people off. However, those in rural areas, and even some suburbs, generally have no such buffer or protection. For them, the heating truck must come and fill their tanks, and those are not public utilities. If they cannot pay their bill up front (and generally there is a minimum amount that will be delivered), then there is no fuel delivery.
For those on public utilities, the shoe drops a little slower, but drop it will and well before winter is over.
There is an awful omission to the news stories and reports. That omission is fracking. We hear constantly in the ads, and even laudatorily from the White House, about how “natural gas” is solving our energy issues. Supposedly more natural gas than we can use is being pumped from under us. Yet, for some reason there is a shortage? Demand is exceeding supply and so that is what is driving up costs? Really? Something in this equation doesn’t make sense.
Before someone gets their undies in a bundle that natural gas and propane are not the same thing, acknowledged. Propane is one of the distillates from the stew that is captured along with “natural gas.” Natural gas is methane. Well, actually it is “odorized”, or more like “deoderized,” methane. Propane is separated out in the distillation process. Hence, if we are bringing up more “natural gas” than ever before, we should also be having much more propane than ever before. This is even more true because propane has almost twice the heating capacity of natural gas.Yet the reports are that there is also most 40% less supply than last winter (Detroit News, Arctic cold makes heating bills soar in Metro Detroit). What??
Also muddying the picture is what costs are going up. Clearly the reports are that consumer heating bills – now and upcoming – are rising dramatically. Then we have it that “futures” are not shifting radically, but that “spot prices” are jumping through the roof. Futures prices are based on spot prices (Investopedia) and if they are seeing large jumps you can bet an increase in futures will follow. And as we all know from gasoline price run ups, the cost of the commodity will definitely impact the cost at the pump – sooner rather than later.
However, at this very moment I can guarantee you that many in our nation are suffering with lack of heat, or risking hypothermia keeping their homes just above freezing. There needs to be a moratorium on the price increases from distribution points to suppliers to distributors. The spot and futures markets for all heating fuels need to be frozen (instead of the people). And, emergency funds need to be distributed right now. I would recommend direct contact with distributors to guarantee payment and have them deliver fuel, and then work with customers to resolve any issues. If we wait for folks to apply for assistance, we are likely to see more pain and suffering than the current winter is already visiting on the heads of most of the nation.
I call on President Obama to take immediate action. There are lives on the line.