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Propane pinch hits High Desert residents

Tighter supply spurs skyrocketing prices

Propane prices jump on High Desert

BEND, Ore. - These days, Americans  are wincing at a different kind of pump, as propane prices skyrocket.

"We can't afford it -- it's ridiculous," Bend resident Elise Michaels said Thursday.

Even those in the business are stunned.

"It's higher now than I can ever recall, and I've been in the propane business my entire life," said CoEnergy General Manager Randy Camp.

Supplies are short nationwide.

"The whole country is under the same inventory," Camp said.

Last week, the U.S. Energy Department reported record-high propane withdrawals, and prices are following suit.

"There's been about a 400 percent increase in cost," Camp said.

The record-high prices have prompted him to send a letter out to his customers, explaining how major events nationwide are snowballing, including record uses of propane for farming, a bitterly cold winter and changes to the supplies' transportation.

"There's a shortage of rail cars and transport trucks caused by a pipeline shutdown that runs the main supply of propane from Texas all the way up through the United States," Camp said.

And as Central Oregon is slammed with another Arctic blast, customers are worried.

"If it goes up to $5 a gallon, like I've been hearing, it's going to cost us $500 a month to run it," Michaels said.

Michaels' propane tank sits blanketed by snow just feet from her home in Deschutes River Woods -- but maybe not for too much longer.

"Yesterday, my husband and I looked at each other and said, 'Lets go back to the wood stove.'" she said.

Camp said a couple weeks ago, his company was running low on propane.

"We did short-fill customers to make sure we had product for all of our customers," Camp said.

He said CoEnergy's propane supplies now are adequate, but another shortage isn't out of the question.

"I think right now we're at the worst of it," he said. He also said he doesn't think prices should get much higher.

Camp said the U.S. has plenty of natural gas, especially with all the drilling in North Dakota.

He said he believes prices should level off and than drop back down --maybe as soon as March.

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