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Propane retailers scrambling to find fuel during shortage

Frigid temperatures, breakdowns of distribution propane channels and wholesalers chasing big export profits has left hundreds of thousands of northwestern Ohio residents short on fuel to warm their homes.

Prism Propane, in North Baltimore, and other area propane retailers are scrambling to obtain propane to keep customers warm and safe from the cold, with more frigid temperatures on the way. Prism is seeking propane from as far away as South Carolina for its 3,600 customers, Chief Operating Officer George Walton said. Normally the fuel is abundant from multiple terminals in Ohio.

“It’s a crisis and a major crisis,” Walton said.

Because of the regional shortage, Prism is rationing the fuel. Customers’ tanks are only being filled to 30 percent of capacity, he said.

Prism is urging customers to set thermostats no higher than 64 degrees, and to find other heating sources, like electric heaters.

Ohio Gov. John  Kasich has declared an energy emergency for Ohio. That waives state limits on working hours for transporters of propane and heating oil. It also would enable Kasich to employ the Ohio National Guard to help transport fuel or to “take whatever actions are necessary” to keep people safe.

But the propane distribution problem affects 24 states and involves supply and distribution channels from as far as Canada. Walton is calling for President Barack Obama and Congress to intervene.

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