(Oklahoma)The oil and gas industry begins distributing $600,000 in relief.

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The oil and gas industry begins distributing $600,000 in relief.

Things got a little warmer for Tulsa's children and the poor on Tuesday. As promised Monday, a group of oil and gas producers began distributing checks totaling $600,000 to the Tulsa Public Schools and an assortment of nonprofit agencies that have been hit hard by this winter's unexpectedly high natural gas bills.

"People are hurting," said George Kaiser of Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. "We feel it's our responsibility to respond."

Through the Tulsa Community Foundation, the group gave $250,000 to Tulsa Public Schools, $100,000 to the United Way and $250,000 to other nonprofit organizations.

The contribution to TPS will help cover a nearly $400,000 deficit in the district's heating budget. The United Way donation will be distributed to member agencies for increased operating expenses.

The $250,000 to other social service agencies will be used to help individuals with heating bills that increased as much as five-fold during December's record cold and unprecedented rise in natural gas prices.

"We hope this effort will remind people to make a special gift" to social service agencies, said Tulsa Community Foundation Executive Director Phil Lakin.

Kaiser and Jim Adelson of Nadel and Gussman Energy spearheaded the fund. Adelson said a story about Tulsa Public Schools' gas bills got his attention.

"In talking to some people, as cold as it was in November and December, it seemed like we ought to do something," Adelson said. "It's kind of bittersweet to be successful under those circumstances."

The early cold spell and rising gas prices left TPS facing a choice between delaying some capital expenditures or dipping into reserve funds.

"This is a substantial help in dealing with a substantial issue," said Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent David Sawyer.

In addition to using natural gas to heat most schools, the district powers many of its buses with compressed natural gas.

Kathleen Coen, executive director of the Tulsa Area United Way, said some agenies have dipped into funds that were budgeted for use later in the year.

Industry observers note that wholesale natural gas prices are down more than 40 percent from December's highs and are expected to drop even more before stabilizing. Retail prices have remained high, while natural gas utilities recover gas costs from the period of high prices.

Oklahoma Natural Gas, the state's largest natural gas supplier, reported $77 million in unrecovered gas costs as of last month.

Randy Krehbiel, World staff writer, can be reached at 581-8365 or via e-mail at randy.krehbiel@tulsaworld.com.


-- Tess (webwoman@iamit.com), February 14, 2001

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