Washington fuel oil companies struggled against ice and snow and exhaustion last week to keep up with an increased demand for heating oil which left some customers temporarily with empty tanks.
Strategies for meeting demand included massive overtime, increased use of snow chains and dragging hundreds of feet of fuel oil hose up icy driveways that stymied trucks. Most of the time these efforts were successful, said fuel oil company spokesman, but in spite of them, a few contract customers ran out before refill.
Even harder to meet was the demand from customers who do not have regular deliver, who called looking for oil, they said.
"It's been crazy here, incredible. We're working overtime every day, every day," said Fred Garfold of Steuart Petroleum Company. "We have over 100 drivers now, and we've been hiring a bunch more," he said.
In spite of the hours, which have run as high as 70 hours a week, the drivers have been happy. "They're all smiles" on pay day, he said.
Garfold said Steuart had a few customers who had run out but that he believed they wouldn't have any more.
"We're running trucks day and night," said Richard Howard of A.P. Woodson. "The area is covered in reasonably good shape, given the degree of cold weather," he said. Woodson has had a couple of customers a day who may have run out, he said. He said he felt that was a good record, given the difficulties, but "the poor person who happens to be the one who runs out - they don't feel that way, and I can understand," he said.
Besides the snow and ice, which had been on the ground for 10 days, fule companies were facing more rapid consumption than usual. Some customers have almost doubled their normal consumption, one company spokesman said.
During the first 13 days of the year cumulative temperatures were 107 degrees below the total that normal temperatures would have produced, with a predictable effect on fuel consumption.
Most fuel oil companies base automatic deliveries on a formula that includes the customer's historic rate of consumption and the number of "degree days" that have passed since the last delivery. Degree days are the number of degrees between the daily temperature and 65 degrees - the industry standard for what it should be inside.
In the first 12 days of 1977, degree days were running 42 per cent higher than normal.
Costs are running higher too. The price of a gallon of fuel oil is about 45 cents locally, compared to about 42 cents last year.
"The amount of cold weather this winter just pushed us to our maximum delivery capacity," said George MacDonald, assistant vice president for Hessick Inc. "I have a feeling that high wind during cold wather has the effect of robbing buildings of heat," he said. MacDonald said that Hessick will deliver to a customer who should have a four-day reserve and find that the reserve is about half of what it should be after a period of high wind and cold weather.
"There is a good possibility that oil is going to be scarce by the end of this month," he said. But, he added, that during the energy crisis, when supplies were also tight, "we just squeaked by."
High prices have helped complicate the delivery picture, he said. If customers get behind in their payments, by the time they catch up, the delivery may be late. Payment is much more a problem than in previous years, according to MacDonald.
"Oil is three times as expensive today as it was three or four years ago, and many people are not making three or four times as much as they did," he said.