Esme’s Blog: Tracking Refinery Shutdowns

Driving yesterday I found myself suddenly, and very briefly, excited to see gas at $4.09 a gallon. Just the evening before, I had seen it at $4.39 a gallon. Then I got angry.

How ridiculous is it that $4.09 a gallon suddenly seemed like a deal? Lost in a very busy and sad news week is a proposal by Sen. Al Franken to reinstate an Energy Department program that up until 2011 tracked planned shutdowns of refineries for routine maintenance.

It is the simultaneous shutdowns that are being blamed for the dramatic spike that sent gas prices in Minnesota skyrocketing 50 cents in a week. Refineries are barred from trading shutdown information amongst themselves because of anti-trust laws. The Franken proposal seems like basic common sense – the federal government would be able to tell when a region would be drastically affected by multiple shutdowns and could, if necessary, intervene.

The Energy Department’s tracking program was discontinued in 2011 because of budget cuts. This Memorial Day weekend the budgets of regular Minnesotans are taking a beating at the pump. Franken argues that the tracking program could have predicted and prevented this crisis; and the only way to really tell if that is true is to bring the program back.

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