What the heck is going on with gas prices in Minnesota? We've seen prices jump 15 percent in just the last week, while the price of crude oil is going down.
Now, Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to know why three refineries in the Upper Midwest are sitting idle at the same time.
Exxon's refinery in Joliet, Ill. and BP's in Whiting, Ind. are down as they convert to a summer fuel mix. And Northern Tier in St. Paul Park, Minn. is also partially down for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
So, even as the price of crude oil is dropping, a tank of gas skyrocketing. But only in Minnesota, joining California and Hawaii, which typically have the highest prices.
Gas prices in the Twin Cities metro averaged $4.21 per gallon on Thursday – 60 cents higher than the national average and more than 50 cents higher than last month's average. Most of Minnesota is near the $4 per gallon mark.
Nationwide the average is $3.60, which means some of us are paying 70 cents more a gallon. With a 20 gallon tank, that's $14 more to fill it up.
Sen. Klobuchar is asking the Energy Department to coordinate these seasonal shutdowns, to stagger the timing. She says there will always be disruptions in the supply chain, but doesn't believe scheduled maintenance should lead to this kind of shock.
"I don't think Minnesota should stand and take this," she said.
Klobuchar supports building more refineries if that's what it takes. There are only 144 oil refineries in the United States -- half the number we had 30 years ago. The last state-of the-art refinery went online in 1977.
The oil companies say refineries are expensive to build, so they've made the ones they have more efficient. But some have argued the oil companies like to keep the number of refineries low, because it keeps supply tight, and prices higher.
SEN. KLOBUCHAR'S LETTER TO ENERGY SECRETERY
Thursday, Sen. Klobuchar wrote a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu calling for an examination of the refinery closures and timing of scheduled maintenance operations.
Dear Secretary Chu,
Consumers in Minnesota and across the upper Midwest have seen gasoline prices spike dramatically. These volatile price swings put family budgets under severe pressure, especially as people prepare for the Memorial Day weekend. In a state where many local economies depend on tourism, we cannot afford such dramatic increases. Rising prices mean more than just higher costs for consumers at the pump, they are also hurting businesses struggling to fully recover from the recession.
I understand that the recent run-up in prices can be attributed to a decision by a number of oil refineries that serve the Upper Midwest to close for maintenance at the same time, and one refinery remaining closed for unexpected repairs. These shut-downs have caused tight gasoline supplies in Minnesota. While refiners must adjust their plants for seasonal gasoline blends and perform necessary upgrades to protect worker safety and repair equipment, scheduled maintenance should not be allowed to contribute to such a major gasoline shortage.
In your capacity as Secretary of Energy, I would ask you to work to collect information regarding the timing of scheduled maintenance for refineries and also any occurrences of refinery disruptions to avoid supply shocks to consumers. While there will always be unexpected disruptions, there is no reason that scheduled maintenance should contribute to retail prices jumping 15 percent in less than a week. I look forward to working with you on administrative and legislative options to prevent similar supply issues in the future.
SEN. AL FRANKEN STATEMENT
"I'm very concerned about how gas prices in Minnesota have spiked following the temporary refinery closures. Every measure should be explored to ease pain at the pump. I'm currently working with the Department of Energy to explore whether there's a way to make sure that we can avoid having multiple temporary refinery closures in the same area of the country—which is part of the reason why we're seeing the spike in gas prices."