National propane delivery suppliers Ferrellgas and AmeriGas are leaving customers in the cold in Southwest Colorado and across the state this winter.
The problem has become so acute that the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety announced a new policy Jan. 3 that allows propane customers with emergency needs to have tanks owned by one company to be filled by a different company. The policy waives enforcement of a state statute that requires customers have tanks filled only by the company that owns the tank.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office has also taken action, sending a letter to AmeriGas on Wednesday imploring the company to remedy the situation. Consumers have contacted the AG to report that AmeriGas Propane “cannot or will not service” their propane tanks, the letter said.
“These complaints are from Coloradans all over the state – from Durango to Fairplay and Cahone to Divide,” the letter continued. “Consumers report being at ‘emergency levels’ of propane for weeks, that their repeated calls to AmeriGas go unanswered, and that the company has left consumers without their primary source of heating in the winter months.”
It appears the company has also charged consumers extra fees for emergency deliveries that AmeriGas itself created, the letter continued.
“Your failure to provide propane is endangering Coloradans and placing minor children and elderly consumers at risk,” the letter said. “These actions may also create a public nuisance and violate one or more provisions of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.”
The letter concludes by asking AmeriGas to respond by March 1.
Meanwhile, Ferrellgas, one of the three national propane delivery companies operating in Southwest Colorado (Suburban Propane is the other), is not doing any better by its customers.
Troy Trone and his wife, Vicki, have been Ferrellgas customers for five years. The couple live in a single-wide trailer near Durango-La Plata County Airport. Both are disabled with limited mobility and both rely on supplemental oxygen to survive.
“We never had a problem until this past year, then all of a sudden, problems started arising,” Troy Trone said. “We tried to call them before we got low and couldn’t get an answer. And then we tried and tried and tried some more and still couldn’t get an answer. And finally, by the time we did get a hold of them we only had 5% in our tank. And they said they couldn’t do anything until the third of January. We asked if they could expedite it and come out early, which we had done in the past and paid an extra $100 fee, but they said no.”
That was four days before Christmas. The couple ran out of propane the next day.
They relied on small electric heaters placed throughout their home to stay warm. But no propane meant no hot water and no stove. So the Trones borrowed an electric skillet and toaster oven to cook with and used their deep fryer to heat water for dishes and to bathe.
“I just feel like because we are disabled they didn’t have to worry about it you know, like, ‘Oh well, they’re disabled, they have blankets, they’re not going to freeze,’” Trone said. “We have one electric blanket. We lucked out that way but then I had to worry about how I was going to come up with the money to pay the electric bill.”
Ferrellgas did fill the Trones’ tank on Jan. 3, but told the couple they could fill it only halfway because of a propane shortage in Colorado.
Scott Simmons, inspection supervisor for LP-Gas/Weights & Measures for Colorado’s Division of Oil and Public safety, said there is no shortage in supply.
“There have been no propane shortages in the last 10 months,” he said Wednesday. “It’s more of a struggle because of a shortage of drivers and extreme winter weather.”
Simmons is not sure whether Ferrellgas and AmeriGas have enough trucks in the area because they move them around, trucks break down, and the companies may have the trucks but not the drivers, he said.
Simmons said calls from Coloradans in dire need of propane picked up beginning in November, which is why the division adopted a new policy to allow any company to fill any tank in an emergency. The letter announcing the new policy said the division had been receiving complaints from across the state and that providers’ inability to deliver risked lives and property damage caused by broken pipes.
A Jan. 26 article in The Durango Herald about Bayfield-area residents left in the cold because AmeriGas was not filling tanks garnered reams of comments on the Herald’s Facebook page from people in Southwest Colorado and across the United States having the same problem.
More recently, a steady stream of complaints on social media from Durango-area propane customers who have been left in the cold by both AmeriGas and Ferrell have left people scrambling for answers and trying to switch to local providers Basin Coop in Durango or Arrowhead in Farmington.
“We have been noting a lot of service complaints from area residents on the Nextdoor app about propane companies not delivering propane and people waiting in the cold and/or being charged extreme prices,” Karen Spray wrote in a letter to the Herald.
Priscilla Sherman shared her frustration on the Nextdoor app Feb. 18.
“We have been trying to get Ferrell propane to deliver for three weeks,” she wrote. “Now down to 10% and still they won’t commit to when they will come. We are on auto fill! Depend for heat, hot water and cooking…Not the first year they have delayed delivery but the closest to being empty.”
Basin Coop General Manager Don Dukart confirmed what Simmons said, which is that propane supply has been good this year.
“The Ignacio plant, where pretty much everybody around here gets their propane, they were down a day or two production-wise, but that was pretty much it,” he said. “The weather never helps things, that’s probably the biggest factor.”
Dukart said Basin has had a higher-than-usual number of calls from people hoping to be new customers.
“We’ve had more than we can handle this year, people wanting to switch to us,” he said. “And I have a buddy at Arrowhead who’s probably going to say the same thing.”
People who want to sign on with Basin may be told the company is not taking on new customers, but Dukart said it is kind of a gray line.
“If they have their own tank we will add them on,” he said. “But if you need to add a tank, we try not to set those once the snow flies. It makes it really tough.”
Basin currently fills 31,000 customer tanks in the area.
“Our year ends in February and this will be the biggest year we’ve had in gallons of propane sold – which kind of tells you where we are at,” Dukart said.
For questions about having a tank filled by a company other than customer’s company: Scott Simmons, inspection supervisor for LP-Gas/Weights & Measures for Colorado’s Division of Oil and Public safety, (303) 378-1103, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For consumer complaints: Colorado Attorney General’s Office at https://coag.gov/office-sections/consumer-protection/.
The better business bureau, which brings complaints to the companies for resolution: (816) 421-7800 for Ferrellgas; and (202) 393-8000 for AmeriGas; or visit bbb.org.
For information about how propane is priced, visit https://propane.com/about-propane/how-is-propane-priced/.
For AmeriGas spokeswoman Brilynn Johnson, email Brilynn.Johnson@amerigas.com.
The recorded complaints of customers from AmeriGas and Ferrellgas pile up with more research – whether sourced from a recent article in the Ouray County Plaindealer newspaper, which reported customers in that area and across several western states being left in the cold. Or by contacting the two separate better business bureaus that process a tiny fraction of complaints about the companies – the Kansas City bureau for Ferrellgas, or the Washington, D.C., bureau for AmeriGas.
The Kansas City-based better business bureau confirmed an increase in complaints against Ferrellgas.
“Yeah, it does look like it is spiking,” said Nikolas Reese, operations manager at the bureau. “Our incoming is pretty high up there. We’ve already had 11 complaints just in this month alone.”
The Herald reached out to Ferrellgas and AmeriGas for comment about their service and delivery shortfalls in Southwest Colorado. Ferrellgas did not respond. But Brilynn Johnson, the AmeriGas spokeswoman who commented for the Herald’s Bayfield propane woes story, did respond.
She said the company takes customer service issues seriously and offered for any dissatisfied customers to contact her directly. She said AmeriGas was “in receipt” of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s inquiry and is investigating its claims.
“To date we have not received a specific customer complaint directly from the Attorney General’s office of Colorado,” she said. “We closely monitor demand and proactively allocate resources where needed, but like other industries, we are still facing driver shortages.”
That’s also what the AmeriGas driver told the Trones when they ordered early, Jan. 31, for their next propane delivery.
“They said they would deliver the following week,” Troy Trone said. “Then they called back three days later and said they didn’t have enough drivers to deliver the 100 gallons, which is all that we can afford. So we cut our usage drastically and used electric heaters again to conserve. And we finally got it on Feb. 17.
“Really we just want people to know this is happening,” he said. “Because if we all get together maybe we can change things.”
An earlier version of this story reported that Ferrellgas and AmeriGas are the only two national propane delivery companies operating in Southwest Colorado, based on interviews with state agencies. Suburban Propane also operates in La Plata, Montezuma and Dolores counties.