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Oil deliveries failing to keep pace with customer demand

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 04. 2018 8:46PM
A fuel truck heads south on Interstate 93 through Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/Union Leader)

Deliveries of home-heating fuels are running days if not weeks behind, a trend that is only expected to intensify as bitter cold temperatures hit the state in the wake of Thursday’s nor’easter.

Blame can’t be laid on the storm, at least entirely, officials said. The extended cold snap has kept home heating systems burning oil, propane and other fuels at high rates, especially compared to recent winters.

In addition, a full shift of delivery didn’t take place on the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays.

And Thursday’s storm slowed deliveries; one dealer estimated that the storm cut his normal number of daily deliveries in half.

“People are panicked,” said Blaine Davis, president of Contoocook-based H.R. Clough.

He said it will take a week for a delivery to established customers, but his company and others will react quickly if temperatures start to fall rapidly in a house.

“If they’re absolutely out of oil, we could get there that day, even if it’s a technician running over with 10 gallons,” Davis said. Doing so would prevent pipes from freezing, which would necessitate another repair call, he said.

The state’s Consumer Protection Bureau, the Public Utilities Commission, and Homeland Security have fielded calls from worried fuel customers, said James Boffetti, who oversees consumer protection for the Department of Justice.

“All of the companies are getting a huge influx of calls and are trying to meet the demand,” Boffetti said. “It seems like there’s enough product. It’s just a matter of getting it to people.”

If customers are running too low, they should call 211, their local Fire Department, or state Emergency Management officials, he said. They are trying to coordinate deliveries. Customers with a half tank will have to wait for their deliveries, he said.

“There is (a triage). That’s fair to say,” he said. He said customers who prefer to shop around and don’t build up dealer loyalty are part of the problem. They are less likely to get timely deliveries.

Davis said his workers are piling up the hours.

He said he left a technician working on frozen pipes at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, and the worker made two other calls before he went home Thursday morning to sleep.

“We’re over 60 hours,” he said of the time cards for his workers. “This week, it wouldn’t surprise me to see 80, 90-hour weeks.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation lifted its hours-of-service rules, which restrict how many hours a commercial driver can work in a week, Boffetti said.

“It helps a lot,” Davis said.

While managers are ensuring that drivers are getting the rest they need, they are not hampered by making sure all the legal requirements are met, he said.

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