Columbus- State Sen. Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta) responded today to a deal reached between the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and the soon-to-be defunct gas provider, Ohio Rural Natural Gas (ORNG). Under the settlement, northeastern Ohio natural gas customers who were previously told they would be forced to pay to switch to a different provider will be allowed to keep their current service with no additional charge or gap in service.
“The agreement reached yesterday between the PUCO and ORNG is the result of intensive discussions over the last couple of months, and it means that hardworking citizens in my district will not have to go a single day without gas or pay to switch providers,” said Sen. O’Brien. “I applaud the work of individuals on both sides of this issue for coming to an agreement that both ensures the safety of my constituents, and resolves concerns surrounding ORNG.”
Concerns about ORNG’s natural gas delivery system arose initially after repeated safety violations by the gas company, which eventually totaled 37 over the course of 14 months. The issue came to a head on January 18th with the PUCO’s order for ORNG to cease operations by March 1st. However, under this initial order, customers themselves would have been forced to find and pay for an alternative source of heating gas by the date of the shutoff while ORNG worked to fix the situation. Extensive pushback from consumers, as well as state and federal lawmakers, who were concerned about shutting off the residential gas supply to dozens of Ohioans during the cold weeks of early March, resulted in the PUCO pushing the initial shutoff date back to April 17th.
“Thankfully, an agreement was reached in the 11th hour, prior to the shutoff deadline yesterday,” continued O’Brien. “My office will continue to monitor this situation, but I’m happy to report that, as of this morning, the pilot lights of everyone formerly serviced by ORNG were still on.”
Under the new settlement terms, ORNG will turn over all control of its assets and operations by Monday, May 15th, to a newly created entity, Ludlow Natural Gas LLC. Ludlow, in turn, has been charged with selling or transferring those assets to a PUCO-approved entity by July 15th, after which it too will cease operations. Until then, Utilities Technologies International Corporation will be retained to oversee compliance with the PUCO’s orders and ensure that strict safety requirements are met.