NY Propane Crisis Attracts State Officials: Push For New Regulations

Jan 11, 2018

New York state officials are investigating extended delays in delivering propane to customers during the recent cold snap.

As temperatures dipped to record lows, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara fielded dozens of complaints from constituents unable to heat their homes.    "And it's become a threat to health and safety, to the residents, especially in rural areas like Duanesburg, western Montgomery County. Those areas are experiencing delayed deliveries of propane or deliveries that have been completely missed. We started to get messages in our office asking for help contacting their supplier. In some cases they couldn't even, the residents had no luck contacting the propane supplier, so we've been assisting customers with contacting the supplier and reporting these complaints to the attorney general's office, because what's happened now is the messages continue to come into my office, but the messages have gone from 'hey I'm running out of propane, I'm down to 5 percent, 4 percent, I'm down to a day's worth of propane, I've heard nothing from my supplier' to 'I'm out of propane and I've been without heat for 3, 4 and last night I visited someone that was out of heat had no heat for five days.'"

Part of the problem is some companies got backed up on deliveries. Customers who lease tanks from one supplier cannot order from another.   "We had temperatures that were double-negative temperatures. I visited a home in Duanesburg, a senior couple, a woman that was 91 years old. They were in the corner of their home, you could see your breath when you go into the house. They were, they had blankets in the doorways and they had a little space heater between them, they turned the temperature way down to conserve the last bit of propane that they had."

The Democrat has drawn up a bill, sponsored by Republican Jim Tedisco in the Senate, that would allow customers who lease propane equipment to use a different supplier if the one that owns the tank can't make a timely delivery.  Carolyn Bemis and Stanley Pierce of Duanesburg experienced that first-hand. Bemis called Santabarbara out of desperation after they tried for several days to get their tank filled.  "Nobody came, nobody called, no emails, nothing. And we just sat there wondering. We kept watching the gas. I was wadin' out through the snow to get to the gas tank to see how it was doing. And on the day that we went down to 7 percent was when we decided 'we need to conserve energy because we don't know when we're gonna get gas now.’"

The couple was able to reach a different company that installed a new tank. As for their previous supplier of two decades:  "The next day we got a call like 2 in the afternoon saying 'we're coming to deliver gas.' And I said "well, you can forget that, we've got somebody else now to deliver our gas.' And she said 'well, we'll have to arrange to pick up the tank.' I said 'yes you will.' She said it's gonna cost you $90 for us to pick up the tank.'"

"My office has been flooded with calls from New Yorkers all across our state from New Yorkers who've experienced extreme delivery delays and possible price gouging by their local propane supplier," said Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has launched an investigation.   "If you think that you've been the victim of price-gouging or of any kind of misconduct by a propane provider, please contact my office right away by calling 518-776-2000 or filing a complaint at ag-dot-ny-gov.  Most propane providers are good businesspeople who are not going to allow them to be put at a competitive disadvantage by bottom-feeders who would exploit the problem caused by our recent cold weather."

Santabarbara is confident lawmakers will act on his bill within the next week.