Feeling The Natural Gas Crunch

At Rohsler's Nursery in Allendale, N.J., they've cleared out their biggest greenhouses and consolidated their stock. Owner Bruce Rosler says he's trying to conserve energy, after his natural gas bill jumped 60 percent.

"I did a double take," Rosler said. "We have no heat on."

Why have natural gas prices exploded? As CBS News Business Correspondent Anthony Mason reports, analysts say it's simple supply and demand.

"Historically, we use about 1.4 percent more gas each year. This year, we're running upwards of 4 percent consumption higher than a year ago," explains Donato Eassey, a Merrill Lynch energy analyst.

Blame the weather, Eassey says. Several mild winters kept usage down and hid a growing shortage of natural gas. After the price plummeted two years ago, many drillers simply stopped drilling.

Higher prices have the wells working again, but it will be awhile before supply can catch up.

"We have some 90-day wonder wells, if you will, but basically you're looking about six to 18 months to get significant production online," Eassey says.

Natural gas not only heats more than half the nation's homes. It powers most of the new electricity plants, driving those rates up too, and many states won't allow cheaper forms of energy.

"Nuclear (power), coal — those kinds of sources that have been key to our growth are no longer (considered) environmentally acceptable," notes Bill Brier of the Edison Electric Institute.

So as the gas meter ticks up, who is making all the money in the energy crisis? Two examples: Enron, which buys and sells power, saw its energy profits up 250 percent. Reliant, a company that generates and markets electricity, saw its earnings jump 600 percent.

"The producers are definitely doing better, but keep in mind they suffered through many, many years of very low gas prices," Eassey says.

Now it's Bruce Rohsler's business that's suffering, and he says he can't see spring soon enough.

"No, that'll be very nice ...70 degrees ...very nice," he remarks.

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