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Public Utilities Commission of Ohio shuts down Ohio Rural Natural Gas Co-Op after investigation

Cutomers to be without service March 1
Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 12, 2017

In less than one month the Ohio Rural Natural Gas Co-op (ORNG) will cease operations and no longer provide gas services to its some 70 customers in Northeast Ohio, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). 

The PUCO is shutting down the company because they said its facilities were operating in a manner that was hazardous to life and property, according to a 39-page opinion and order released on January 18. They have ordered the company to work with its customers to find an alternative service. 

ORNG was ordered to cease all operations effective March 1. 

Violations

PUCO cited the company for 37 violations of the gas pipeline safety regulations (GPS) since their investigation in early 2015. One incident included in the report was from November 2015 when the PUCO said ORNG cut an Orwell Natural Gas Company (Orwell) main gas line in order to take over service to customers at a storage property located at on Tin Man Road. The opinion and order reads:

Upon investigation. Staff stated it discovered that a metering and regulation (M&R) station had been improperly installed along with a distribution main that connected to 44 service lines, supplying 57 separate customer meters.

ORNG was also cited for failing to equip its employees with the necessary equipment to manage and operate gaslines.

To read the PUCO's full opinion and order, CLICK HERE

Affected customers

Customers, like Joe Ferrato, received a letter from ORNG near the first of February about the shutdown. The letter reads, in part:

These problems have been generated by outside competitors influencing the PUCO to put us out of business... You can blame the PUCO.

Read the full letter below. 

Affected customers also received a letter in the mail from the PUCO. In that letter, the state said ORNG lacked the knowledge, expertise and management to safely operate a gas pipeline. 

But, Ferrato is worried about what's next. He's only been one the company's 77 customers since January, after he and his wife bought a brand new home on Sugarbush Dr. in Mentor.

"It's not like a leaky basement, where it's buyer beware. I can't check gas lines when I go to buy a house," Ferrato told News 5.

The new homeowner, husband and father of one said he's made dozens of phone calls since receiving the letters, including numerous calls to ORNG. He said the search for an alternative gas supplier has left him without answers. Orwell Natural Gas Lines run in front of his brand new home, however, Ferrato said they were unable to provide service to their home because they could face a lawsuit from ORNG. Ferrato said he also contacted Dominion, but, in order for that company to service his home, the company would have to install brand new gas lines, costing thousands of dollars. 

Ferrato said he had zero knowledge of the company's history when he signed a contract for his home. He claimed he was told ORNG was the only gas company that could provide gas service for his family. 

"If I would known half of these issues before buying the house, I would never have wanted to get mixed up in this whole thing," he said.

But, Ferrato isn't the only Mentor resident frustrated.

Char Lybbert lives next door to Ferrato. She and her husband bought their brand new home in January 2016. They're also facing the possibility of being without heat come March 1. 

"I have literally done nothing wrong and I'm the one getting penalized here. It makes no sense," Lybbert said.

The mother of four said she's also made dozens of phone calls since receiving the notification from ORNG. She fears no solution will be found by the deadline, putting her family at risk.

"As of now we're trying to prepare for the worst but hope for the best," she said.

Ferrato echoed those fears and said he doesn't feel safe in his own home. 

"I don't know if I'm living in a ticking time bomb," Ferrato said.

News 5 did reach out to ORNG but was told no one would able to answer questions until Monday morning when their offices open at 8 a.m.