Winter Weather A Nightmare for Oil Tank Delivery Drivers

by Jana Ritter - Published: 1/03/2014

Truck drivers for heating oil companies are facing “a nightmare” on their deliveries as they deal with frantic freezing customers, icy driveways and oil tanks buried by snow and ice. The recent winter storms and extreme cold temperatures are stretching the ability of heating oil companies to keep up with demand from customers.

Stuck snow

Les Thomas, owner of Cash Energy in Maine said his company has set records for the number of oil deliveries it’s made in the past few weeks. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, but I don’t remember it being this cold so early in the season,” Thomas said Friday. “And people aren’t prepared. It’s the worst time of the year for this to happen; people are spending their money on Christmas, not oil. “The brutal cold means people are burning more fuel than usual, and companies are fielding more calls from customers looking for a delivery. Additionally, the snow and ice slow down delivery times as truck drivers are often forced to dig out oil tanks.

The situation was serious enough that on Dec. 31, Gov. Paul LePage declared a limited emergency, which, among other things, waives certain U.S. Department of Transportation rules that limit the number of hours fuel delivery truck drivers can work. The declaration is in place for two weeks, and is an extension of a previous emergency declaration LePage made Dec. 13.

 “In the grand scheme of things, when you have deliveries to around 20,000 customers a week, the majority we’re meeting their need, we’re getting there on time,” Sherman said. “But for that small percentage that we don’t, we apologize. We take it personally, and it bothers all of us at Dead River Co.”

Jessica Miller, a philosophy professor at the University of Maine, is one Bangor customer who expressed frustration at not being able to reach a Dead River representative on the morning of Jan. 1, when she woke up to find her oil tank empty. Unable to get through on the phone, her husband drove to Dead River’s office to schedule a delivery. Miller said a Dead River truck showed up a few hours early, but it was a trying experience.

“They did respond pretty quickly,” Miller said. “I just did feel that they might have been better prepared for this sort of contingency given the ice storm and the frigid temperatures.”

Miller’s experience highlights an important lesson for customers, though. Thomas said homeowners need to keep an eye on their tank’s gauges and not let it get below a quarter tank. Scheduling a delivery ahead of time will allow homeowners to avoid the situation in which they’ve run out of fuel and need an emergency delivery.

“The biggest thing is to keep an eye on your tanks and don’t let them get too low,” Thomas said. “And give your oil company a little bit of notice.”