Superstorm Sandy has come and gone, but the recovery effort is ongoing, with fuel oil dealers, energy companies and trade groups helping out.
Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29 in New Jersey, knocking out power to millions, and destroying or damaging houses and other buildings with flooding and high winds in multiple states, including New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Three weeks after the storm, New York state and New Jersey said that they needed at least $71.3 billion to recover from the devastation and to prevent similar damage from future storms, Reuters reported.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the state needed the money to repair and restore damaged housing, parks and infrastructure and to recover lost revenue and other expenses, Reuters reported. New Jersey needs to repair massive damage to its transit system and coastline.
Fuel oil dealers and energy companies are among both the victims trying to recover and the volunteers helping with the recovery effort, some trade group representatives said.
Fuel oil dealers that suffered losses are “trying to keep their customer bases as intact as they can,” said Judy Garber, executive director of the National Association of Oil & Energy Service Professionals (OESP), East Petersburg, Pa. Garber said the association had heard from “a fair number” of its members. For some the storm inflicted terrible losses. Garber said she had heard that one fuel oil dealer in the New York metropolitan area might have lost as many as 20 fuel oil and service trucks. She did not want to identify the company.
“There are pockets” where the damage is worse, Garber said, while other areas are considerably less affected. “It’s going to take a while until this shakes out,” she said. A concern in the association and in the industry generally was that oilheat dealers might over-order parts and equipment as a preventive measure against running out, and that might lead to shortages. “We don’t want panic,” Garber said. “You can only install so much equipment in a day, make X number of repairs in a day.”
To be as effective as possible, Garber said, “The guys [technicians] are replacing parts rather than equipment because that’s the quickest way to get people heat.” Supply of parts seemed to be keeping up with the need, Garber said in an interview with Fuel Oil News on the eve of Thanksgiving. “They’re not running out,” she said.
“The manufacturers and wholesalers want to ensure that they have sufficient equipment on hand to ensure the market is served,” John Huber, president of the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA), Alexandria, Va., wrote in an email. NORA, in coordination with manufacturers and Garber, are conducting a survey to evaluate whether there is sufficient supply of parts and equipment. Garber is asking service managers to respond to the survey.
“To get another perspective,” Huber wrote in his e-mail, “we thought it might be useful to have dealers also respond” – especially dealers who have a customer base that was affected by Sandy.
Here is the survey’s link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/39Q7SDD. Or it can be found on the OESP website: www.thinkoesp.org in a box titled “Sandy,” toward the bottom of the page.
Also, the industry foundation Oil Heat Cares is working to encourage people to donate. “All of the money raised by this industry foundation goes to the services we provide,” Garber said. “As a board, we believe we'll be hit hard within four to six months – so sending money to this charity will be very helpful.” For more information about the foundation, visit the website www.oilheatcares.com.
Como Oil & Propane, Duluth, Minn., volunteered trucks and people to the recovery effort, starting about a week after Sandy struck.
Will Norman, chief operating officer of Como, said the company was contacted by Atlas Oil, Taylor, Mich., which was working in conjunction with Foster Fuels, Brookneal, Va. Foster Fuels was under contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“Everybody just started talking and figuring out the details,” Norman said. The challenge was that Como Oil’s trucks were in heavy use as heating season was kicking off, Norman pointed out.
“Everyone stepped up and did what they could do to help us send five trucks” to New Jersey, Norman said. “We brought in a couple of temporary seasonal guys, and one of our retired guys came back to deliver oil for us. We’re an oil and propane company, but a lot of our drivers can do both, so we shuffled people.”
The five vehicles consisted of two transport trucks and three tank wagons. The transport drivers, Terry Fisher and Corey Lonetto, work for Twin Ports Transportation, which is Como’s transport company in Superior, Wis. The tank wagon drivers were Troy Anderson, Jason DeRosia and Tim Peterson.
“We had a sendoff for them at four in the morning on Tuesday morning” – Nov. 6, a week after Sandy, Norman said.
The transport trucks, half-loaded with gasoline and half-loaded with diesel fuel, went to a hospital in the Bronx, N.Y. to transfer part of their load to waiting tank trucks; that fuel was probably used to power the hospital’s generators, Norman said. The tank wagons made a similar delivery to a hospital in New Jersey, and after that the drivers headed to Fort Dix, N.J., a FEMA base of operations for managing emergency and recovery efforts.
“There’s so much hoopla about these guys and this effort,” Norman observed, that one employee reminded him, “Don’t forget about our drivers here that are doing everything they can to keep our customers satisfied so those guys can be out there.”
“That’s a big thing for us,” Norman said, “because the people around here stepped up and offered to do different things and work extra hours and work in different offices, serving different customer bases.”
People in the Duluth area recently experienced a natural disaster, and can picture what Sandy’s victims are going through, Norman said. Duluth had the worst floods in its history in June 2012.
“We weren’t really affected personally or as a business,” Norman said of Como Oil and its employees, though many residents of Duluth were. “The fact that we were able to help out just really gives us a great feeling,” Norman said.
Gene Guilford, president of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association (ICPA), said the association tends to deal with “all of the regulatory stuff – with all of the agencies that govern hours of service regulations and things like that. We got a whole bunch of waivers. The government did a nice job with that.”
Importantly for fuel oil dealers, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced on Nov. 13 that $3 million in additional energy efficiency incentives were being made available for residents and businesses replacing furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and refrigerators as a result of damage from Sandy.
“Many of the homes and businesses affected by Storm Sandy will be replacing damaged appliances, and heating and cooling equipment,” Malloy said. “This unfortunate situation does, however, provide a unique opportunity to help property owners improve, rather than just repair, their properties by making energy efficiency investments that will save them money for years to come.”
The incentives will apply for replacement of equipment with more energy efficient models between October 29 and December 31. The deadline for applications for the incentives is December 31, 2012.
In addition to these incentives, Malloy also announced that special funding was available, in the form of low-cost financing for eligible equipment with optional on-utility-bill repayment for customers who make energy efficiency upgrades in equipment or insulation and air sealing while renovating or reconstructing their residence or business as a result of storm damage.
A special team was formed to assist homeowners and businesses through the application process for these increased incentives and financing options.
For information about the various energy efficiency incentives or financing options available for replacing or repairing equipment call the Connecticut Energy Information Line at 1-877-WISE-USE (1-877-947-3873).
The $3 million for increased rebates for more energy efficiency replacement equipment is being financed largely with energy efficiency funds made available through the Northeast Utilities/NStar merger settlement agreement.
Meanwhile, Guilford of the ICPA said, “The people who don’t get enough attention and don’t get enough thanks, the people who kept the system running – were the truck drivers.” Guilford credited the drivers “who made sure that the gas stations got gas, that the diesel fuel got delivered to the literally hundreds and hundreds of people who needed diesel fuel for generators whether it was a hospital or a cell phone tower or a first responder like the American Red Cross or a government agency.
“They were going all over God’s creation, going to places they don’t normally have to go in order to get fuel,” Guilford said. “They were just magnificent in the fact that they did it safely – there were no accidents – and they managed to get the fuel around to keep the system running.”
Likewise, service technicians were busy helping people get water out of their basements and putting in new components, especially in the hardest-hit section of Connecticut coastline, Guilford said.
George Perrelli of F. Perrelli & Sons Fuel, East Haven, Conn, said on his FaceBook page how busy all the company’s service technicians were, Guilford reported, taking care of their customers.
On the Front Line
“It’s been a heck of a ride, that’s for sure.”
Shawn Ryan spoke over his cell phone from New Jersey, where he and many co-workers from Atlas Oil Co. in Taylor, Mich., had spent 17 days or so helping with recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the Northeast.
Ryan and some others were breaking camp, looking forward to being home for Thanksgiving, which was three days away.
Atlas Oil is a supplier and distributor of fuels, including diesel, fuel oil and gasoline. Ryan, vice president of operations, said he and Ray Lark, the company’s director of operations, headed up a group that at times numbered some 65 Atlas employees and more than 20 Atlas Oil trucks, operating out of Fort Dix, N.J., a U.S. Army base that is doubling as an operations center for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The trucks that Atlas Oil sent to New Jersey included 15 tank trucks and seven smaller container trucks that were outfitted to dispense gasoline directly into vehicles, Ryan said.
Ryan worked as a dispatcher for about two weeks, at one point helping to handle as many as 200 transport trucks, he said. “By and large, for about the first ten days after Sandy hit, all major services were being supplied directly off of trucks,” he said. “The thing that struck me the most was how many people needed so many basic things like gas and food and water. You realize how dependent you really are on electricity.” Without power, gas stations could not pump fuel. Another problem was contamination of fuel in the flooding.
The Atlas Oil group provided fuel to mobile refueling stations, including some in New York City. “We went down to see a couple of the refueling sites in Brooklyn and in the Bronx,” Ryan said. “You think 12,000 gallons of gas is a lot, but when you look at how many people need fuel and every single store and business is boarded up and shut down – it goes pretty quick.
“Our guys would bring in truck after truck, and one of them would stay there working the pumps for thirty to forty hours in a row just pumping to a nonstop line of cars,” Ryan said. “It was amazing. The amount of just physical endurance it takes – you don’t think pumping gas is that hard until you try it 1,500 times in a row.”
People weren’t worried about how long they had to wait, Ryan said, but they would walk up to ask whether any fuel would be left by the time their turn came.
Ryan extolled New York City police, fire, ambulance and other local authorities for their teamwork and for taking care of the Atlas drivers. Other volunteers came from Minnesota, New Mexico and Texas, Ryan said. “It really was astounding,” he said. “Residents would come up and hug our drivers and thank them. Everybody who’s out here was touched and really, really grateful they got a chance to help.”
To house its people, Atlas Oil rented about a half-dozen RVs in Michigan and drove them to New Jersey. “We set up a campground where we located all our drivers together so they would have some of the amenities of home,” Ryan said. “It’s obviously not the same, but they had warm showers, and each of them had a bunk they could call their own. We called it Camp Atlas.”
Many of the drivers had been residents of Camp Atlas for fifteen to seventeen days, Ryan said, speaking on Nov. 19.
The Atlas Oil contingent included a mechanic. “We rolled his whole tool chest up onto a trailer, and loaded it up with enough spare parts that we could almost rebuild a tractor if we had to,” Ryan said. “Luckily we’ve had no breakdowns, which is a testament largely to the work Ray’s done with his mechanics’ team to make sure that our equipment is in top working order.
“The teamwork among companies that are normally rivals says a lot about the owners of the various companies that were leading the response,” Ryan said. “It was pretty special to be a part of it.”
Others will get a chance to be part of it too, it seems. Noting that many employees had been away from work and home “since Day One,” Atlas Oil’s director of marketing, Mary Zaleski, said, “Some will rotate out, and others will go in their place.” – Stephen Bennett