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Noteworthy News: Propane Keeps Consumers Warm While Natural Gas Is in Crisis

Green propane tank

When people have a reliable supply of propane on hand, they feel confident and comfortable. Even better is when they have an on-property propane tank – this gives them the ability to maintain a plentiful supply that remains available for use anytime.

As we’ve seen recently, natural gas customers are not experiencing such security. The last week of January brought with it Arctic air – aka the polar vortex – which descended on the Midwest and created an immediate spike in the demand for all heating fuels. The situation was dire. In fact, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, saw its coldest temperature ever, -30° F, on Thursday, January 31.

In Michigan, a compressor station fire made the problem even worse. (Compressor stations are facilities located along natural gas pipelines, where gas is compressed to a specified pressure. This allows the gas to continue traveling along the pipeline until it reaches its destination.)

While the fire was contained in a short time and no one was injured, the gas flow from the station was shut off entirely and the utility needed to direct its supply of natural gas from reserves in order to keep up with demand. Trouble was coming.

“Turn down the heat”

As a result of the incident, the gas utility asked customers to lower their heat in order to dodge a natural gas shortage. At the same time, some high-natural-gas-usage manufacturing plants called off work shifts. One Minnesota gas utility – where temperatures had dropped to nearly -30° – found itself making similar requests.

In Michigan, the gas utility and the governor authorized alerts to the public about the dire situation on Facebook, TV and radio.

Automated, state-wide emergency calls urged all residents – even those who didn’t use natural gas – to reduce their energy usage.

To make matters worse, a different, large Michigan utility asked its customers to cut back on their electricity due to the extreme cold. While the plants were OK, according to the utility, their system is connected to energy grids in Canada as well as other states, and all were experiencing challenges as a result of the cold.

Consequences

Although the gas shortage ended in concert with the ending of the extreme cold, this series of unfortunate events revealed the power of propane – especially from a supply standpoint.

Methods of processing and modes of transportation give propane a clear edge over natural gas. Once propane is compressed into a liquid form, the liquid petroleum gas (LPG) is stored in big tanks until it’s delivered to homes and businesses.

Before leaving the tank, the liquid propane transforms to gas. It’s released through a valve, slowly and safely. On the other hand, we have the natural gas delivery system. A damaged underground natural gas pipeline – or other issues – can lead to a break in the supply while repairs are underway.

Choosing propane versus natural gas

While a large number of homes around the country use natural gas, many people are not aware that the benefits of propane are close to to those of natural gas.

A propane-powered home generator allows for benefits including unlimited hot water, a super-efficient furnace, a reliable backup generator or temperature-precise cooking stoves.

Still, some more key advantages of propane make it stand out above natural gas.

Propane delivery: access is key

Natural gas is not an option if gas pipelines are not installed in your area. However, propane customers are served by businesses in each and every one of the U.S. congressional districts –that’s 435!*

Secure storage on site

The majority of propane customers can store their contracted, allocated energy supply on-site, allowing for the highest level of security. And with programs including prebuy, automatic delivery and others like them, most suppliers offer a range of ways for you to be sure you’ll always have plenty of clean propane on hand.

A safer option: propane delivery

When it is handled by trained professionals, propane is easy to compress for smooth, safe transport. The equipment and techniques they use are regulated by authorities at local, state and federal levels. In the event of a serious gas pipeline problem, the situation can take a tragic turn.

Get more flexibility with propane gas line installation

It is usually possible for a propane line to be fed into a home by way of a number of possible entry points. There just needs to be a nearby tank, and while some requirements about a propane tank’s distance from the home are in place, they are not unreasonable. For natural gas lines, this may not be the case.

Fewer greenhouse gases result from burning propane

Due to its low carbon content, propane in its original form is not a greenhouse gas. (It’s considered “green” as a result of its low carbon content.) On the flip side, environmental issues have resulted from underground natural gas pipelines leaking methane.

Propane is safer as a fuel

Compared to natural gas, propane has a far shorter range between its minimum and maximum burn temperatures, and is safer as a fuel. Its narrower range of flammability helps keep it from igniting when it hits the air, unless the ignition source is 920°F or higher.

Learn more about the benefits of propane here.

*Source: National Propane Gas Association.


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