Federal Responses to December 1989 Heating Fuel Shortages Were Limited

T-RCED-91-7: Published: Mar 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Mar 13, 1991.

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GAO discussed: (1) alleged December 1989 heating fuel shortages; (2) the type of data the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) collected and its analyses of heating fuel supply and demand; (3) the impact of federal agencies' delayed processing of Jones Act waivers on heating fuel supplies; and (4) the impact of interruptible natural gas contracts on heating fuel supplies and availability. GAO noted that: (1) in December 1989, the eastern coast experienced short-term heating fuel shortages; (2) two principle reasons for the shortages were increased demand due to extremely cold temperatures, and the inability of the distribution system to move heating fuel stocks from refineries and storage terminals to areas experiencing shortages; (3) federal agencies took from 6 to 17 days to process Jones Act waivers that would have allowed foreign-flagged vessels to transport heating fuels between U.S. ports; (4) EIA maintained data and prepared forecasts on distillate demand and supply, but data limitations reduced EIA ability to adequately monitor the supply shortages; (5) in December 1989, some customers with interruptible natural gas contracts discontinued their gas services; and (6) those contract customers entered distillate and propone markets, reducing fuel supplies available to residential consumers.

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