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Irving must pay $100 to customers whose fuel ran low

Associated Press Writer

MONTPELIER, Vt. (25 January 2007) AP --One of the region's biggest heating oil dealers, Irving Oil Corp., must pay $100 each to 155 customers in the Barre area whose oil supplies were allowed to run low in late 2005, the attorney general's office said Thursday.

"Irving's customers in the Barre area were understandably upset during the holiday season in 2005 when their tanks were getting very low, and they were unable to get the company to respond to their questions and concerns," Attorney General William Sorrell said in a statement.

"With this settlement we want to alert the industry that we will hold them to their promises to consumers, including their promise to provide consumers with "peace of mind" through automatic delivery," Sorrell said.

Irving, which admitted no wrongdoing in the matter, ends up having to pay customers $15,500 in total and an additional $20,000 to cover the attorney general's costs in doing the investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Julie Brill said "one or two" customers ran completely out of oil. Many of the 155 saw their oil tank gauges drop below 10 per cent full.

"It's pretty clear that going below 10 per cent is a concern and should not happen," Brill said.

Brill and Irving Oil spokesman Rob Wilson provided similar explanations for the problem.

The company staffs up with oil truck drivers as the heating season approaches, but found it difficult to do so in 2005 for two reasons, they said.

One was that the FBI had instituted new, more expansive and more time-consuming background checks for drivers, which slowed the process of getting them to work.

The second was that many of the drivers, who do other seasonal work in warmer months, were kept at those jobs later in the fall than usual, Brill and Wilson said.

At the same time, the company acquired a large new group of customers in the Barre area when a group buyer of oil switched to it. Automatic deliveries are calculated by a customer's tank size, usage history and the weather, Wilson said, adding that the company lacked good histories for the new customers.

The "assurance of discontinuance" document that formally settled the attorney general's complaint against the company said Irving had fewer drivers and fewer customer service representatives per customer in its Barre service area than in similar regional operations based in Rutland and West Lebanon, N.H.

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