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Native Sun News: Propane shortage causes scramble for tribes

Filed Under: Environment | National
More on: cheyenne river sioux, energy, john thune, native sun news, oglala sioux, south dakota, standing rock sioux

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Propane shortage causes scramble
Tribes, State, Feds try to solve problem
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

RAPID CITY — The pinch that the financial and human toll that the propane shortage has caused across the country is hitting tribal communities across the northern plains particularly hard as both tribal members and tribal governments scramble to find ways to stay warm.

The extreme cold has already been blamed for one death on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where a female tribal member in her fifties was found dead. Her propane tanks had a reading of 0% when she was found.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota quoted the Energy Information Agency -- which attributed the shortage and high prices to an increased demand due to the incredibly cold weather as well as several other reasons.

“On top of increased demand, South Dakota and surrounding states have experienced reduced rail deliveries and pipeline maintenance issues, which have resulted in demand outpacing supply,” said Thune.

In order to help alleviate some of the supply problems and prices Thune requested on January 24 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issue an emergency declaration for the Western Service Center, which includes South Dakota. On January 28, FMCSA approved Thune’s request. The approval allows for companies and drivers who deliver propane to travel greater distances than federal regulations allow for and for the region to acquire additional propane to be placed on the market for purchase within the area. South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard in early January issued a truck driver exemption at the state level that allowed for some of the same lessening of regulations within South Dakota that Thune requested at the federal level.

Thune and Daugaard are not the only government officials who are stepping up efforts to address the crisis that is threatening lives across the plains. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe recently funneled resources away from a fund set aside for a forensic audit and directed it towards energy assistance for tribal members according to Tribal Council representative Robyn Lebeau.

“We had a line item in our General Fund which was allocated for the 2013-14 for a forensic audit on the Pte Hca Program. We reallocated $500,000.00 of the 1 million to assist our Tribal members during this much needed time of the extreme high cost of propane,” said Lebeau. “This 500,000.00 will be placed back in the 2014-15 general fund to finish the forensic audit.”

Cheyenne River established income guidelines for those eligible to receive the assistance and has also made the funds immediately available to the elderly and handicapped.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is also looking for alternative providers who may be able to sell at prices that are more affordable to its members. Last week OST entered in to talks with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s REDCO propane. REDCO is currently selling fuel at almost half the price of other providers but say that the rise in both demand and lack of supply will not allow them to sell propane this cheaply for much longer. When asked how they are able to keep their prices so low Wizipan Little Shell director of REDCO had some harsh words for others in the propane business.

“It is about planning and not being greedy,” said Little Shell. “I really didn’t understand it until I got in to the propane business. There is price gouging but it is really about planning,” he said.

Little Shell said that the company contracts gallons of propane out in to the future and purchases wholesale propane during times when prices are at their lowest. Little Shell said that right now most of his competitors are selling propane at a price near $4.00 per gallon but REDCO is able to do it currently at $1.99 a gallon because of the business model they have employed.

“We run on a really thin profit margin at REDCO. Really any profits we make are going to be reinvested in to the process of building the business,” said Little Shell.

The company can currently store up to 70,000 gallons of propane but as supplies start to dwindle REDCO will also be forced to raise their prices in accordance with the market. When asked if REDCO would be able to supply propane to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at these prices Little Shell said that it would not be possible to sell at those low prices due to delivery prices as well as difficulties in getting it delivered. The company only has a limited number of delivery trucks but Little Shell would say that there have been talks with the Oglala Sioux Tribe but nothing has been finalized.

Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer was unavailable for comment.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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