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Missouri Lawmakers Push For Federal Investigation Amid Skyrocketing Propane Prices

Propane tank
Photo Credit: Ty Konzk-Amarek via Flickr

Virtually overnight, propane prices catapulted from $1.25 a gallon wholesale to over $3.50.  Several local suppliers are rationing deliveries while many consumers are paying over $4.00 a gallon. As KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann reports, Missouri senators and representatives are calling for an investigation.

Bolivar Senator Mike Parson is urging Attorney General Chris Koster to look into the matter, and several state lawmakers agree. Representative Lynn Morris of Ozark says he’s been getting numerous calls from concerned constituents, including those on the verge of running out of propane.  For some, this may mean having to find an alternative place to stay.

“Everyone needs to call their own representatives, their own senators.  Let’s put pressure on our state government officials, and let’s see if we can get the Governor and his group to do something.  I am not exactly sure yet what we can do, but we need to learn from this,” Morris says.

Morris says he does not blame local suppliers for what he calls a “crisis.”  He explains that many area suppliers are rationing inventory, delivering minimal amounts, and prioritizing need. Morris says many homes and businesses are affected, and that he is extremely concerned for those who have no other alternatives.  

“Somewhere from the wholesale back to the distribution center, there’s something wrong somewhere.  Propane is usually a very clean, efficient, low-cost fuel.  We’ve always seemed to have plenty and for some reason, now all of a sudden we have none,” says Morris.

Steve Ahrens is the executive director with the Missouri Propane Gas Association.  He says this shortage is a regional problem that affects the entire Midwest and parts of the northeastern U.S.  Ahrens explains that one-third of the nation’s propane inventory comes through Conway, Kansas, adding that current inventory is less than the total amount exported internationally in the fall.

“What we’re experiencing in Missouri with regard to price and supply is really unprecedented.  Back in the 70s, there were some issues with propane prices that led to price controls back at the time.  But what we’re seeing today really is a different scenario, a different event, and something nobody has really lived through before,” Ahrens says.

There are a number of events that has led to this shortage, Ahrens suggests, citing exports, fall crop-drying season, and the recent extreme cold.  He says the Missouri Propane Gas Association is asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate. 

Ahrens explains propane is an abundant resource that is produced now more than ever before, which makes this situation that much more frustrating.  He says Enterprise is one of the largest producers and shippers of propane.

“Petroleum products are shipped in batches through a pipeline; it’s just not a constant flow of a single product.  You can have diesel, gasoline, propane, or jet fuel looped through those pipelines at different times depending upon when the shipper needs.  Enterprise has delayed the shipment of some other petroleum products and put a priority on sending batches of propane back up to the Midwest.  We think that will help a little bit,” Ahrens says.

Consumers are being asked to conserve as much as possible, and Ahrens also recommends having a contingency plan while supplies remain low. 

For KSMU, I’m Theresa Bettmann.