The price of home heating oil is expected to hit an all-time high this winter. That’s unwelcome news from Maine to Maryland, where millions of people rely on the fuel to stay warm. The spike could make life difficult for heating oil suppliers and their low-income customers.
When the price of crude oil jumps the price of home heating oil pretty much follows.
In the last 12 months, the price of crude has shot up 40%.
What’s causing the spike?
Aaron Brady, an analyst for IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, says its emerging markets like India and China.
“That is the primary reason why the oil market is a lot tighter. Very strong demand.”
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.
It’s his fleet of trucks.
“As funny as it sounds, our highest cost to conduct business is delivering the fuel. The largest component of that is diesel fuel.”
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 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.
“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 25-30, 40 years. It’s a terrible situation. You can sugarcoat it all you want, but no matter how much you tell yourself it’s ok, it’s not ok.”
If Rymes is going to struggle this winter, social worker Judy Scothorne worries poor people are going to suffer.
Scothorne runs one of the fuels assistance programs in New Hampshire.
She says she’s worried because Congress is considering a $1 billion dollar cut to federal fuel aid.
That would leave 2 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.
“They’ll be buying space heaters and they’ll be cutting corners how to hook them up and how to run them. There will be fires. That’s what’s going to happen. They will do very desperate things, very desperate things.”
Scothorne is familiar with desperation.
She’s seen enough to know that awful is possible.
“The last thing I ever want to happen on my watch, is to lose somebody, somebody to die because they don’t have warmth.”
Scothorne remembers the woman with developmental disabilities last winter who came to get assistance.
But she says, she never came back.
“She was found in her mobile home with the oven door open. She was trying to stay warm, and the propane ran out.”
Officially, the autopsy said the woman died of a heart attack.
Scothorne says she hopes Congress figures out people need to find some way to stay warm.
She warns, they will.