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Propane shortage fuels anger, angst

In Oklahoma, about 400,000 customers rely on propane. Since early December, the price of a gallon of the fuel has rocketed from about $2 to nearly $5 at its peak in late January.
by Adam Kemp Modified: February 7, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: February 8, 2014

“It's extreme pressure on everyone because when that budget breaks, you just feel helpless,” Hampton said.

And he points out that with tight supplies, he's barely breaking even.

“We finally get a cold winter, and there's a propane shortage,” Hampton said. “Now we are praying for 80 (degrees).”

Most of Hampton's customers weathered the high prices by filling up their huge tanks, at Hampton's urging, when prices were low. The best way to think about your propane tank is to compare it to a bank account, Hampton said

“You should always have plenty of savings in case of an emergency situation,” he said.

For those who didn't fill up when prices were low, Hampton said relief may be in sight. He suggests waiting a week or two because prices are starting to drop.

In the meantime, closing off doors in your house, keeping the thermostat set at a lower temperature and buying a small space heater can help make your propane last, Hampton said.

“You don't want to fill up now and have it cost $600 or $1,000,” he said. “The prices will drop back down, and you will be resentful of how much you spent in that tank.”

Hampton fears that the recent price spike will do permanent damage to the propane brand.

In northeast Oklahoma near Tahlequah, Paul Laney, owner of Liberty Propane Co., has seen Hampton's fears come true. He's had several customers let their tanks run dry only to replace them with space heaters.

When winter ends, Laney said he expects to lose about a 100 customers who will make a permanent switch to electric or wood-burning heating.

“A lot of people are in a tremendous bind,” Laney said. “We are doing the best we can, we are delivering the smallest amount of propane that we can which only allows us to break even. But we want to help our customers.”

The Loopers plan to stick with propane. It's usually the most affordable heating option and better for the environment, Kyndal Looper said.

“This is the first time we've ever had to pay more than $2 a gallon for it,” Looper said. “We love it. We won't change.”

by Adam Kemp
Enterprise Reporter
Adam Kemp is an enterprise reporter and videographer for the Oklahoman and Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State...
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