Fuel oil spike signals costly end to New England winter

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — With heating oil prices topping $5 a gallon, an all-time high in New England, people who rely on the power source to stay warm have been hurting themselves over the past few weeks of winter.

In the northeast, a blizzard this weekend is expected to bring more than a foot of snow to parts of the region, proving the cold weather isn’t ready to let go.

An energy expert has encouraged New Englanders to only buy what they need until the warm weather arrives.

“You don’t need to fill your tank. The best advice is to buy just what you need because prices will come down. It’s a spike and prices will go down,” said Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association.


Fuel oil prices generally follow gasoline prices, which have been rising since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The US Energy Information Administration said New Englanders paid $2.81 a gallon for fuel oil a year ago.

On Monday, the regional average was $4.96, according to the agency, and the price rose slightly in most places. A Massachusetts survey put the average at $5.02, with prices as high as $6. These prices, which are not adjusted for inflation, remain volatile.

It was so bad that thieves emptied the oil tank of a church in Maine.

Steven Allman, pastor of Leeds Community Church, said between 150 and 175 gallons of oil were stolen. This stolen oil was worth between $750 and $875 based on a price of $5 a gallon.

“We are very saddened and our prayers go out to those who are so desperate that they have had to resort to draining our outside fuel tank. If only they had come to us for their needs,” the church said.

In places like Burlington, Vermont, the rising cost of fuel is accompanied by a shortage of affordable housing.

“The higher cost of fuel to get us through this winter, and exactly what that really means over the next two to three to four months or beyond, is one of the toughest times” facing the Vermonters, said Travis Poulin, the manager of Chittenden. Community action.

There is a disproportionate impact in the Northeast, where residents are more dependent on fuel oil for heating. The state most dependent on fuel oil is Maine, where it heats 60% of homes.

But the higher prices are mitigated by the fact that many customers lock into flat-rate packages at the start of the season.

Another positive note is that the Biden administration has provided $4.5 billion in energy assistance through stimulus funding in addition to $3.8 billion through the energy assistance package for low incomes, Wolfe said.

Some of that money is still being distributed, potentially helping people make end-of-season energy purchases, he said.

President Joe Biden has acknowledged that locals will pay the price for his decision to ban oil imports from Russia as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

He warned that Americans will see oil and gasoline prices rise further, saying “defending freedom is going to be expensive.”

Charlie Summers of the Maine Energy Marketers Association said many consumers will likely have some breathing room because the peak came at the end of the heating season.

But he said dealers will face difficulties as they will soon have to start making contracts for next winter.

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Associated Press writer Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed to this report.

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