National spike in propane prices affects mid-Missouri

Saturday, January 25, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:10 a.m. CST, Sunday, January 26, 2014
Mike Foster, an employee at Van Etten Oil Company in Monticello, N.Y., returns a filling hose to his propane truck Thursday. A nationwide propane shortage has caused propane prices to rise $1.25 per gallon to a wholesale level of $3.55 per gallon.

COLUMBIA — Low temperatures nationwide and a rise in exports of propane from the U.S. are putting a squeeze on consumers as propane prices have skyrocketed.

Across the country, those prices have risen $1.25 per gallon to a wholesale level of $3.55 per gallon, a jump that local propane users will soon start to feel both in price and in limited supply.

The propane shortage is caused by the already high demand of the winter months, exacerbated by the higher than usual demand in southern states that are not used to the unusually cold weather. A rapid increase in American petroleum exports in fall 2013, up by 73,000 barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, has compounded these effects.

In mid-Missouri, propane is a major source of power for those in rural areas.

MFA Oil, a chief propane supplier in mid-Missouri, provides the fuel to more than 5,000 customers and many MU agriculture facilities, MFA Director of Public Relations Tom May said. These customers will see their deliveries limited to only 200 gallons per trip for the rest of the winter. Those with fixed price plans will not be affected by the cost increase, but those with monthly rates will soon be hit by the increase.

"This is a national issue," May said. "We have drivers and deliveries going extra hours, but this is going to continue to be an issue until it warms up."

In Missouri, the increase is being scrutinized by the state government. Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, has asked for an investigation by the Missouri attorney general's office into the rapid price hike and the manufacturers he says are partially responsible for it.

"This is a supply and logistical shortage brought on by the industry itself," Parson said in a press release. "They should not be allowed to collect excess profits from their customers due to the situation of their own making."

However, he also emphasized the fault of national suppliers more than smaller distributors.

"I want to stress this is in no way the fault of our local sellers of propane," he said in the release. "This artificial shortage hurts them as well because they are not able to sell product if they are unable to purchase the amounts they need to supply their customers."

May offered up a summary of the frustrations caused by the squeeze: "We're praying for spring."

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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