NORTH BRANCH, Minn. (WCCO) — Tight supplies of propane and bitter temperatures across much of the nation are putting the squeeze on a number of rural communities.
That’s because rural residents rely on propane fuel to heat their homes and businesses. But a severe shortage of propane is forcing the price of LP to skyrocket.
And with limited supplies on hand, some distributors are rationing their inventories to make sure there’s enough to go around. In some cases, propane suppliers are not taking on new customers.
With the crisis growing, the shortage and escalating price is capturing the attention of lawmakers.
When farmers were forced to dry wet grains from a late fall harvest, it took millions of gallons of propane to do that. Then within weeks of the harvest came a winter heating season that’s shaping up to be the coldest in decades.
What resulted has been a severe propane shortage that is forcing the market to drive up the fuel’s price.
What was priced at around $1.59 per gallon one year ago is suddenly pushing ever so close to $5 per gallon this week.
“It is pretty bad at this time. Customers are coming in saying they can’t get propane elsewhere,” said Blaine Brazier, of Ruddy’s Rental Equipment.
He says he has one homeowner who is filling 100 gallon LP tanks and hauling them to a newly purchased home. That’s because dealers won’t take on new customers while their existing clients require refills of the fuel.
And what they pay is about three times what propane sold for a year ago.
“They’re not taking new customers in the area…and even if you’re an existing customers, a lot of them can’t get a full fills,” Brazier said. “They can only get a partial fill.”
Sensing the fears of rural Minnesotans, Gov. Mark Dayton and state officials met Monday to see what can be done.
Actions will include requesting that President Barack Obama restricts exports of propane and natural gas until the scarcity subsides. Dayton also wants more gas to be trucked in from Texas.
“So we’re doing everything we can to make a difference, large and small, that can make a difference, and we are searching for new ideas today,” the governor said.
And with a deeper freeze still to come, the governor ordered that all National Guard armories will be opened for residents who may need emergency shelter.
“That’s a standing order for the next couple of days,” Dayton said. “I’ll renew it if it is necessary.”
Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman hopes the situation begins easing soon. He points out that Texas is allowing more propane to be trucked to Minnesota and other Midwestern states.