Don Arno hauls containers of heating oil from a pump at PitStop Fuels in Standish on Wednesday. Extreme cold has increased demand for oil, leading to long waits for delivery and at the pumps. Arno’s next oil delivery is expected roughly two weeks after the day he ordered it in late December. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Don Arno filled up a 20-gallon plastic jug with heating oil at PitStop Fuels in Standish on Wednesday morning, enough, he hopes, to keep the house warm until Monday, when he is scheduled to get the delivery he ordered more than a week ago.

“Usually when we call them we can get a delivery in a couple days,” Arno said. “With the holidays and stuff they are probably running a little behind with customers; I don’t know what is going on.”

Arno was one in a line of worried customers uncertain when they would get a refill during a record-breaking cold snap that has left heating fuel companies struggling to fill customer orders. Arno was among a number of people filling up plastic jugs with heating oil, including No. 2, which is essentially the same as diesel fuel.

In some cases, fuel deliveries are scheduled out a week or more. At least one company in southern Maine has stopped taking orders, and others are getting so many calls that customers can’t get through.

Small independent fuel retailers seem to be the most overwhelmed by orders from will-call customers who don’t have automatic refill service.

“What happens with the smaller companies is once you get a cold snap like this, they can’t keep up,” said Steve McGrath in the Governor’s Energy Office. He personally answered 20 consumer complaints about unresponsive companies in the past two days. Most came from customers of small fuel companies, including PitStop, that serve will-call customers around Sebago Lake, McGrath said.

“There are not enough drivers and trucks at the moment to satisfy demand because of the cold weather,” he said.

Those stuck with dwindling home fuel don’t have many options aside from trying to get a delivery, McGrath said. “I don’t know of any recourse other than to switch their oil dealer,” he said.

Laurie Delaney of Gorham holds her daughter Kylie, 4, while discussing a fuel delivery at PitStop Fuels in Standish. About 20 people stood in line Wednesday afternoon to discuss deliveries with four employees. Delaney, who has two young children, said she has a quarter tank left and her estimated delivery date is Jan. 12. Still, she said she understands the situation. “I see trucks everywhere, so I know they’re delivering,” Delaney said. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Laurie Delaney of Gorham said she drove to the PitStop Fuels office to find out when an order she placed would be delivered after she couldn’t reach anyone on the phone.

“The phone was busy all day. I was alarmed by that,” said Delaney, who was waiting in line with her 4-year-old daughter, Kylie.

“I was worried because they were not saying when they were going to get it to us,” she said. “It is kind of at their mercy, which is scary, especially with the freezing temperatures.”

It might take until next Friday to get her delivery, Delaney said. She hopes the quarter tank of oil she has left will last until then.

DELIVERIES STRETCHED BEYOND CAPACITY

Josh Sandahl, vice president of Stone Road Energy, which owns PitStop Fuels, said in an email that his company’s situation isn’t unique. Heating fuel companies across New England are struggling to keep up with demand during a record-breaking cold snap over the past two weeks. The fuel company is still open and taking orders, but has been so inundated with calls that customers may only get a busy signal, Sandahl said.

“Looking at statistics, there are times we are seeing in excess of 100 calls an hour,” he said. “We are working as quickly as possible to get as many customers their deliveries as we possibly can, including delivering all weekend,” he said. “At the end of the day, our driver safety is of utmost importance and we want to make sure every driver goes home safe every day.”

Helen Mozzoni of Bridgton fills four 5-gallon jugs with heating oil Wednesday at PitStop Fuels in Standish. A cold snap has spiked demand for fuel, leading to long waits for delivery. Mozzoni, whose oil tank is “down to the red mark,” had never pumped her own heating fuel before.
Helen Mozzoni of Bridgton fills four 5-gallon containers with heating oil Wednesday at Pit Stop Fuels in Standish. Mozzoni, whose oil tank was “down to the red mark,” had never pumped fuel into canisters and needed advice and assistance from other customers before filling. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

In a news release Wednesday, the Propane Gas Association of New England asked customers for patience during the extreme cold.

“Due to the overwhelming number of calls, some customers have experienced busy signals or messages that the phone line is out of service. Our members are all working hard to serve their customers and their phones lines may be overloaded,” the association said. “The Propane Gas Association of New England is working diligently with our members and state government agencies to ensure deliveries of propane continue as quickly, easily and safely as possible.”

Ruck Oil, a small company in Biddeford, stopped taking fuel orders Tuesday night so it could work on a two-week backlog, said administrative assistant Sam Perron. It will continue delivering to its automatic order customers.

“We are way over our delivery capacity for the next couple weeks,” Perron said. The company employs about 13 drivers and serves communities in York County.

“We are very busy. We haven’t seen it like this for a few years. It is insane,” Perron said.

EVEN LARGER COMPANIES STRUGGLING

Even Maine’s big heating fuel companies are dealing with overwhelming call volumes. Fielding’s Oil and Propane Co., which has locations across central and southern Maine, notified customers on its website that “due to extreme weather conditions” it is backed up on calls and emails, and recommends that customers call first thing in the morning if they cannot get through by 5 p.m. Dead River Co., one of the state’s largest heating fuel companies, did not respond to interview requests Wednesday, but said on its website there could be delays. The message emphasized that the company was focused on serving its current customers.

John Wheeler, retail sales manager for CN Brown, based in South Paris, said the company has been inundated with calls over the past two weeks, including from people who have not been able to get oil from their regular suppliers.

The company’s first responsibility is to critical facilities such as hospitals and schools and customers who have automatic refill plans, he said. CN Brown has 26 heating oil and propane locations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“There are a lot of people being turned away by companies they have used in the past,” Wheeler said. “We are keeping up with our customer base. We are not taking a lot of new customers in our locations.”

Deliveries for will-call customers are being scheduled out for a week, Wheeler said.

Overwhelming demand is creating a backlog, but deep snow, ice and poor road conditions mean deliveries take longer, especially in western and central Maine, which have received significant snowfall and ice in recent storms.

The best thing people can do is plan ahead by checking their fuel levels frequently and ordering early, Wheeler said.

“They should be calling when their tank is half full, not waiting until the quarter or third of a tank because of the backlog of orders companies have now.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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