Home Heating Oil Prices Spike As Cold Weather Nears

fromNHPR

The price of home heating oil is expected to hit an all-time high this winter. When the price of crude oil jumps, the price of home heating oil usually follows. In the last 12 months, the price of crude has shot up 40 percent.

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ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The price of home heating oil is expected to hit an all-time high this winter. That could make life difficult for heating oil suppliers and their low income customers. New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein reports.

DAN GORENSTEIN, BYLINE: When the price of crude oil jumps, the price of home heating oil usually follows. In the last 12 months, the price of crude has shot up 40 percent. What's behind the spike? Aaron Brady, an analyst for IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, says it's emerging markets like India and China.

AARON BRADY: That is the primary reason why the oil market is a lot tighter. It's very strong demand.

GORENSTEIN: Strong demand in Beijing and Mumbai means people like John Rymes in Concord, New Hampshire will pay more over the coming months. Rymes runs the family business Rymes Propane and Oil. He says it's not the cost of the heating oil itself that's going to cause trouble for his business.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK ENGINE)

GORENSTEIN: It's his fleet of 80 trucks.

JOHN RYMES: As funny as it sounds, our highest cost to conduct business is delivering the fuel. The largest component of that is actual diesel fuel.

GORENSTEIN: Rymes' trucks run from the Massachusetts border over the New Hampshire and Vermont mountains up to Canada. He says he's got to pass that diesel cost on. But Rymes knows people will struggle with the new rates - more customers cutting back, more customers asking Rymes for help. He says that's the hidden cost to the price spike.

RYMES: My job is to make sure that I don't let people have too much credit. And a lot of these people have bought fuel from my family for, you know, 25, 30, 40 years, some of them. No matter how much you sugarcoat it or tell yourself that it's okay, it's not okay.

GORENSTEIN: If Rymes is going to struggle this winter, social worker Judy Scothorne worries poor people are going to suffer. Scothorne runs one of the fuel assistance programs in New Hampshire. She says she's worried because Congress is considering a $1 billion cut to federal fuel aid. That would leave two million low-income households without support this year. Couple that with a forecast of higher prices and Judy Scothorne has her own prediction: this winter is going to be bad for people.

JUDY SCOTHORNE: And they'll be buying space heaters and they'll be cutting corners as to how to hook them up and how to run them. There will be fires. They'll do very desperate things, very desperate things.

GORENSTEIN: Scothorne is familiar with desperation.

SCOTHORNE: The last thing I ever want to happen on my watch is to lose somebody, to die because they don't have warmth.

GORENSTEIN: Scothorne remembers the woman with developmental disabilities last winter who came to get assistance. But she says that woman never came back.

SCOTHORNE: She was found in her mobile home with her oven door open, trying to keep warm, and the propane ran out.

GORENSTEIN: The autopsy said the woman died of a heart attack. Scothorne says freezing in that trailer certainly didn't help her former client's health. The social worker says she hopes Congress figures out people always find ways to stay warm. But she warns the consequences can be cruel. For NPR News, I'm Dan Gorenstein in Concord, New Hampshire.

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