Nightly News   |  January 20, 2014

Propane shortage takes toll on rural America

A shortage of propane gas in the Midwest and Northeast is impacting millions of homes and businesses in rural areas beyond the reach of utilities.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> big winter storm is going to hit across a big part of the country, bringing bone-chilling temperatures from the upper midwest right on up through new england, and because this follows that bitter cold from the so-called polar vortex a while back earlier this month, some states are worried about propane supplies for heating homes. that story tonight from nbc's john yang .

>> reporter: for jeff dahl in stacy, minnesota, north of minneapolis, it's already been a rough winter. he has closed off rooms in his house to cut his gas use.

>> we have a propane fireplace that we have just turned off.

>> reporter: but it's still expensive.

>> last year, we were paying about $8 a day to heat the house. and this year we're up about $15 a day.

>> reporter: with the polar vortex plunging so much of the nation into the deep freeze so early this year, there's a shortage of propane gas in the midwest and northeast. in rural areas, beyond the reach of utilities, it's used to heat about 7 million homes and businesses.

>> that early demand has made it very difficult for us to catch up.

>> reporter: across the midwest , propane prices have spiked, up as much as 46% over last winter, according to government data. demand isn't going to ease any time soon as another blast of arctic air heads south.

>> the polar vortex returns, at least a part of it will spread from the northern plains and canada all the way across the great lakes, with more sub freezing temperatures, subzero wind chills for the next couple of days.

>> reporter: 15 states from oklahoma to maine have emergency declarations in place, easing limits on how many hours propane truck drivers can be on the road. the transportation department has declared a home heating fuel emergency, relaxing regulations in 24 midwest and northeast states. industry officials say they're talking to regulators about further steps. but it could take a while. and committee in the meantime, homeowners like jeff dahl are hit with a double whammy.

>> we have been watching our numbers to make sure we're able to keep heating the house to a comfortable level through the remainder of the winter.

>> reporter: with a lot more winter to come. john yang , nbc news, south holland , illinois.