An angry backlash is building across the middle of the U.S. as states step in to help their constituents pay billions of dollars in natural-gas bills racked up during February’s freeze.
While most escaped the blackouts that occurred in Texas, states from Minnesota to Kansas are having to help local utilities, businesses and homeowners cover February bills after natural-gas prices surged from around $2 per million British thermal units to as much as $1,200 in parts of the country.
Lawmakers and regulators in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas have called for investigations into market manipulation and are exploring regulatory changes. Republican and Democratic leaders in some of the states said it may be time to reconsider whether interstate gas markets, deregulated since the 1980s, need greater federal oversight to prevent a similar economic calamity from happening again.
The February storm caused wellheads and pipelines to freeze in Texas and other gas-producing states, crimping supplies just as millions of customers cranked up the heat. The effects were felt far from the Lone Star State, leaving many homeowners and businesses with monthly bills hundreds or even thousands of times as large as usual.
In Oklahoma City, the Villagio senior living center received a February gas bill of $44,527—about 50 times more than the month before—from its gas marketer, Constellation, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Exelon Corp.