Propane shortage chills state
Residents and firms struggle to cope as Chevron works to fix its damaged refinery
Scurrying from a chilly rain yesterday, Lines Lome reached a covered hallway at his apartment complex with a sigh of relief.
But he might as well have just gotten used to cold water.
Lome and other residents of the Kalani Garden Apartments low-income housing project in Mililani learned from the property's management yesterday that a statewide shortage of propane, or liquefied petroleum gas*, would mean no hot water or use of communal laundry facilities for at least several days, probably longer.
"I'm shocked," said Lome, a construction worker. "When I get home, I'm dirty, really filthy! I've got to have my hot shower, man!"
The deepening shortage began Feb. 21 when lightning knocked out power to the Chevron refinery in Kapolei.
Operations have resumed except at the propane plant, which supplied most of the propane used by hospitals, schools, hotels, other businesses and thousands of homes throughout the state for everything from cooking to lighting tiki torches.
As supplies dwindle, the impact is being felt by rich and poor alike.
Like Kalani Garden, hot showers will be out at the Oahu Country Club, which also informed members yesterday that it would be scaling back food and beverage service beginning next week.
"We told members to expect 10 days to two weeks of this, but we hope it doesn't last that long," said Loren Pippen, the club's general manager.
Chevron spokesman Albert Chee declined to predict when production would come back on line, citing company policy against commenting on operational matters.
"We are continually working to get the refinery back up in as quick and as safe a manner as we can," Chee said.
The company also has been looking for overseas sources that can be shipped in quickly but has so far found none, he said.
However, Chevron representatives had indicated to one of its customers, Oahu Gas, that the refinery could be back up as soon as Wednesday or Thursday, said Oahu Gas General Manager Ron Templeman. "We're just praying that happens," he said.
Oahu Gas is the propane supplier for both Kalani Gardens and the country club. Templeman said the company, which supplies customers on Oahu, Maui and in Kona, has stopped deliveries except to clients such as hospitals and the 35 public schools it supplies, but even those are on reduced amounts.
"This is huge for us. The whole state is affected by this. We basically have curtailed all deliveries except to those customers," he said.
Templeman said most of its clients should get by with current supplies for another two to three weeks.
Chevron's problems prompted Gov. Linda Lingle and the Gas Co. to issue an appeal for propane conservation last week.
Synthetic natural gas, the supplies of which are unaffected, provides the fuel for heating and cooking needs from Kapolei to Hawaii Kai, making it the most widely used such gas in the state.
However, tens of thousands of households and businesses on Windward Oahu, other areas of the island and the neighbor islands depend on propane.
The Gas Co. alone has about 39,000 propane users, about 12,000 of which are on Oahu, while its rivals serve several thousand more. The actual numbers of people affected are much higher, though, since apartment buildings and large businesses are usually counted as single users.
The Gas Co. has started a program of rationing to stretch supplies at least until a scheduled shipment of propane from overseas arrives in about 10 days, said spokesman Steve Golden. He said increased local production by Chevron rival Tesoro is helping.
Tesoro officials could not be reached for comment.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
» Propane is liquefied petroleum gas. A Page A3 article yesterday incorrectly referred to it as liquefied natural gas.