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Propane hotline flooded with calls

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Minnesota's propane supply may be down to a trickle, but callers are flooding a hotline set up to field questions from those concerned about getting and paying for their next tank of fuel.

Minnesota Public Radio reports the hotline the Department of Public Safety established last week is getting hundreds of calls per day and state officials increased the number of operators from 4 to 14.

The Department originally said the hotline would only be staffed on weekdays but quickly changed that and answered phones on Saturday and Sunday, FOX 9 reports.

On Friday the state's Executive Council extended an emergency order that Gov. Mark Dayton called in response to the propane shortage. Dayton has also been in talks with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to remove regulations limiting the trucking of propane to the Midwest.

Distribution problems coupled with high demand have led to the supply crunch which in turn has sent the cost of propane soaring. Since the problem developed last fall, the price of a gallon of propane has risen from $1.50 to $6, the Commerce Department says.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is warning of price gouging. According to Forum News Service, Swanson says it's a particular problem for customers who lease propane tanks. The companies that lease those tanks to Minnesotans often stipulate that they be the only fuel provider, which removes price competition, Swanson says.

The Propane Education and Research Council says propane production in the U.S. is at an all-time high, but the fuel is not getting to customers who need it. The Council says it is investigating how the shortage happened and how to prevent a recurrence.

The federal government released $15.8 million last week to shore up Minnesota's heating assistance program.

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