For weeks, thousands of Minnesota families and businesses have been eyeing tight budgets after a propane shortage caused prices to nearly triple. Now, leaders are looking at how to prevent one in the future.
Even through propane prices are starting to settle, there is a consensus among lawmakers, retailers and consumer groups that a crisis like the one seen across the Midwest this winter is one that can't be afforded again. Turkey farmer John Zimmerman said the harsh winter and spike in operating costs nearly pushed his business to the brink.
"My livelihood is at stake here," he said. "If I run out of fuel, birds die."
Farmers in the state were urged to sell back propane supplies to help increase availability for the roughly 250,000 Minnesota households that rely on propane for heating. Meanwhile, officials scrambled to set up an emergency hotline to help people like Kris Graber, who struggled to come up with the cash to cover the rising cost of residential propane, which peaked at $4.61 a gallon in January.
Relief is now in sight following government intervention to boost the supply, but now, lawmakers are focusing on how to prevent the crisis from recurring. Zimmerman told Fox 9 News part of that process must include addressing how propane makes it to the Midwest.
"We're going to have to get propane on trucks or on trains, and do we have the infrastructure to do that? Do we have the train cars? Do we have the drivers? There's all sorts of issues that need to be worked out," he said.
Sen. Al Franken, who chairs the energy subcommittee, is trying to lock in federal hearings in the next few months to discuss propane exports.
"We're producing more propane than ever, so that isn't the problem," Franken said. "The problem is the distribution."
Yet, even though elected officials are speaking with industry experts and consumer groups, some worry the supply situation may be even worse next winter because of the Cochin Pipeline Project, which stretches from Canada through Minnesota.