Propane Plentiful, Retailer Assures

A propane shortage in some areas of Ohio that prompted Gov. John Kasich to suspend limitations on how many hours commercial drivers delivering the substance can be on the road does not appear to have reached the Upper Ohio Valley, according to a local supplier.

With temperatures expected to fall into the single digits today, propane suppliers such as the Marshall County Co-Op in Moundsville will be busy making deliveries to customers who use the gas to heat their homes. In his declaration, Kasich said restrictions on the number of hours and consecutive days truck drivers can be on the road are hampering some propane suppliers’ ability to fill orders in a timely manner.

But Marshall County Co-Op manager Dave Voithofer said his store – which does about one-third of its propane business in the Buckeye State – has had few issues meeting demand.

“Two weeks ago, there was a half a day when we were out of propane. … That doesn’t keep me up at night,” Voithofer said, noting he’s more concerned about soaring wholesale prices for propane, which he attributes to increased exports of the gas to overseas markets.

“Wholesale propane right now is as high as we’ve ever seen it,” he said. “We’ve been in the business for 24 years and it just continues to climb.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gives state governors the authority to suspend hours of service regulations by declaring an emergency. But Voithofer doesn’t find such laws – which remain in effect in West Virginia – to be particularly burdensome to his business.

“It’s not been an issue,” he said.

Federal regulations prohibit drivers from being on duty more than 60 hours in any seven consecutive days, or more than 70 in eight consecutive days. Drivers can’t be on the road for more than 11 of any 14 consecutive hours and may only start their shift after 10 consecutive off-duty hours. Lifting those restrictions, Kasich noted, does not eliminate a company’s duty to monitor its drivers for signs of fatigue or impairment.

“This will help get propane companies resupplied so Ohioans who use propane to heat their homes can stay warm, while also doing it safely. … We’ll get through this as we always do, by working together,” Kasich said.

Kasich’s order will remain in effect no more than 30 days, though it could terminate early if the state Emergency Management Agency and Public Utilities Commission of Ohio determine an emergency no longer exists.