Cold snap stressing oil firms: ‘We’re trying to keep up’

  • Tony Gonzalez, an employee of Surner Heating Oil in Amherst, delivers in Amherst Friday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Gonzalez, an employee of Surner Heating Oil in Amherst, makes an oil delivery in Amherst Friday afternoon. Companies who deliver oil throughout the Valley are working around the clock to keep up with the demand caused by extremely cold temperatures since the day after Christmas. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Gonzalez, an employee of Surner Heating Oil in Amherst, delivers to in Amherst Friday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 1/5/2018 9:29:36 PM

AMHERST — After nearly five decades in the home heating oil business, Bob Kieras has never seen anything like the cold weather that set up camp in the region just after Christmas and hasn’t let up since.

“We’ve never been this busy for such a long spell,” said Kieras, whose family has owned Amherst-based Kieras Oil for seven decades.

Kieras Oil isn’t alone. Companies that provide property owners with oil to heat their homes — at least those that were able to spare a few minutes for an interview Friday — say they are struggling mightily to keep up with the demand caused by an exceptionally cold start to this winter that’s only a few weeks old.

Some companies are so busy that they’ve started turning away new customers for the time being. That, in turn, is leaving many customers scrambling to find oil before they run out.

Others companies are delivering on Sundays and holidays, adding drivers, and pushing back estimated delivery time by several days to keep up with demand.

“We’re working seven days a week, 10 hour days,” said Keith Dennis, dispatcher at Sherman Oil in West Brookfield.

Dennis said this has been going on since the day after Christmas.

“These guys haven’t had a day off,” Dennis said.

“We’re trying to keep up,” said Susan Surner, one of the owners of Surner Heating, speaking out of the company’s Amherst office.

Surner said cold weather is the reason fuel oil companies are so busy.

“It’s weather driven,” said Surner, noting that people are burning through oil at a heavy clip.

“I don’t remember it ever being this cold,” Kieras said.

Indeed, since Dec. 26, the average temperature in Amherst has not broken 20 degrees Fahrenheit. And in the month of January so far, the temperature has been 17.8 degrees colder than typical.

The high temperature during this period has been 33 degrees on Dec. 26. Since then, all high temperatures in Amherst have been lower than 25 degrees.

Kieras said the increased demand has forced his company to stop taking on new customers for the time being.

“We’re struggling to keep up,” he said, also noting that the company would like to add a new driver.

Noonan Energy Corporation in Springfield is also holding off accepting new customers.

“I hate turning people down,” said Tim Noonan, the company’s director of sales and marketing.

Noonan said that a number of people reaching out to Noonan Energy are the customers of other companies, who have been informed that they won’t be serviced before their fuel is set to run out.

He said that the company is making deliveries on Sundays and holidays, which Noonan said it rarely does. He also said that adding more drivers and service technicians would be helpful.

Surner said that a number of customers who are not on automatic delivery call when their tank is 1/8 full.

“They’re calling at the last hour,” she said, saying that such customers expect next-day delivery. “It’s impossible.”

She said that those that call in deliveries to Surner can expect fuel oil to be delivered in three to four days. Additionally, Surner has also increased the delivery time for customers who order online to seven to 10 days.

Surner also noted that bad weather delays fuel oil delivery timetables, and that drivers for her company delivered during Thursday’s snowstorm for as long as they were able.

“We did as much as we could,” she said.

Surner advises people to be on automatic delivery, and acknowledged that automatic customers receive priority for filling. For those that are not, she said that people should place a delivery order when their tank is one-quarter full, or ⅜ in severe weather.

“The key lesson here is be prepared,” she said.

Some relief does appear to be in sight, however. Temperatures are forecast to increase to a high of 31 degrees Monday.

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