Northeast households to pay record heatoil costs

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 16, 2011 5:37pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Heating-oil costs for households in the U.S. Northeast this winter will likely be the highest on record, thanks to expensive crude oil, the government's energy-forecasting agency said on Wednesday.

The average homeowner in the Northeast, the biggest U.S. heating-oil market, will spend a record $2,431 for the fuel, the Energy Information Administration said.

That is about $200 more than the Energy Department's analytical arm predicted in October, when it released its winter heating fuel forecast, and up almost $500 from last winter.

The EIA forecast has the winter heating season running from October through March.

The warning comes as the Obama administration is seeking to halve funding for a government program that helps poor families and the elderly pay their heating bills.

Northeast temperatures in December were 11 percent colder than normal and 8 percent colder in January.

"However, rising oil prices, not colder weather, have been the primary cause of the increase in forecasts of average winter season heating expenditures for households heating with oil," the EIA said.

The price of U.S. crude oil has surged from $78 a barrel last October to $90 this month.

The average retail price for residential heating oil reached $3.59 a gallon this week, up 73 cents from a year earlier, the EIA said.

Gasoline has topped $3 a gallon every week so far this year, reaching a February record of $3.14 this week, up 53 cents from a year earlier.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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