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Propane prices, shortages begin to ease although cold doesn't

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Even as temperatures remain locked below zero, the estimated 250,000 Minnesota homes, businesses and farms that rely on propane for heat are starting to see some relief. Both the supply and the price of the fuel are easing.

MPR News reported that the price of a gallon of propane dropped from $4.61 to $3.97 for the week ending Monday, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. For the week ending Jan. 31, propane inventories in the Midwest increased by about 770,000 barrels.

Meanwhile, the Forum News Service reports the Obama administration on Wednesday extended an order to permit truckers to spend more time on the road to deliver propane. Since truckers must drive through several states to get propane, the federal order includes more than just the states struggling with the shortage. Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday extended an order to allow more propane to be trucked out of his state.

Gov. Mark Dayton sent letters to President Obama and Minnesota's congressional delegation seeking an additional $17 million in funding for the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Current LIHEAP funding runs out March 10 due to high demand. The Commerce Department reports that more than 100,000 Minnesota households were receiving energy assistance at the end of January. About 30,000 more households are waiting to see if they're eligible for help.

A state propane hotline has received 2,373 calls in the week it has been open, including 370 on Wednesday alone. People may call the hotline at 651-297-1304 and 1-800-657-3504.

The Associated Press reported that authorities on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota are investigating whether a woman found dead in a mobile home with an empty propane tank died from the cold. Debbie Dogskin's body was discovered Tuesday morning after the temperature dropped to 1 degree below zero overnight. Tribal officials have declared a state of emergency because about 5,000 homes on the reservation are heated by propane.

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