Heating oil costs raising concern
Local suppliers say price increase is no cause to panic yet
Rising home heating oil prices are causing some concern for area residents who rely on the oil to keep warm during the winter months, but local dealers are urging customers not to hit the panic button just yet.
“People’s concern is that it may end up at $3 a gallon,” said Jim Barber, president of the Oil Heating Association of Central Pennsylvania and Barber Oil Co. of Ebensburg. “There is nothing to indicate that, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”
Dealers in the area are currently selling home heating oil from $2.34 to $2.60 a gallon.
Barber said there is no shortage of oil and nothing to indicate when the price will get out of hand, although he admits he is not sure why the price of heating oil has continued to climb over the summer months, when it usually drops.
“Every year you hear horror stories, but they rarely come to fruition,” he said.
“I don’t see anything getting crazy,” Barber said. “I am not sure why it has been going up this year; it may be the political climate. There is nothing that would indicate we will go back to bad times with heating oil.”
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Energy Information Administration, the most recent New York Harbor Heating Oil Spot Price — a trading number, not the retail price — is $1.98 a gallon, up from $1.36 in January.
In 2020, the price of home heating oil in January was $2 a gallon, but it dropped to 56 cents a gallon at the end of April.
Heating oil’s all-time high was about $4.33 a gallon in June 2008.
The EIA will release its forecast for the cost of heating for the winter season in October.
Gasoline prices have also been going up throughout the year and there is a correlation between gasoline prices and home heating oil prices.
“Both prices are affected by crude oil prices, but heating oil prices may or may not increase when gasoline prices do or vice versa,” an EIA spokeswoman said.
“The trend has been up and down over time; this year in recent months spot heating oil prices have increased along with crude oil prices,” she said.
Heating oil prices can change rapidly and are difficult to predict, officials said.
“Heating oil prices can change hour by hour. To what extent and when those changes are passed on to consumers depends on the retailers,” the spokeswoman said.
“It is continuously up and down,” Barber said. “We don’t change the price daily, but it changes often. Over the last five years, the average has been $2.30 a gallon a year.”
A local dealer who did not want to be identified said the price is impossible to predict with any certainty.
“The trend in 2021 has been up, the summer is no different, it has been creeping upward. It is so hard to predict. I just tell people my last 5 or 6 price changes have been increases,” he said.
But the price of heating oil is usually cheaper in the summer and when many people fill up their tanks.
“Typically June, July and August, and even September, are the best times to buy heating oil, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Barber said.
“Heating oil has been cheapest in the summer in 18 of the last 23 years,” he noted. “In the dead of winter, prices increase, but it doesn’t always work that way.”
Barber said figuring out the market trends is difficult.
“The batteries in my crystal ball died,” he joked. “It is tough. You really don’t know. We are dealing with imperfect information.”
There is assistance available for home heating oil customers facing financial difficulties.
“We try to give people the best price we can. We go into areas and do summer fills,” said Karen Padula, corporate secretary of Martin Oil Co., Bellwood, and secretary of the Oil Heat Association of Central Pennsylvania.
“For example, we go to a place like Warriors Mark and fill as many people as we can,” she said, adding that they will also be offering a special at the Huntingdon County Fair.
There are discounts for senior citizens and payment options.
“People can go on a budget and pay all year,” Padula said. That option allows customers to regulate their costs by making payments over a 12-month period. “They can control what they pay each month,” she said.
Because the price is so volatile, Padula said consumers should take advantage of the summer sales.
“We don’t know when it will go up and down. I don’t have an idea, nobody does. We try to get as low of a price as we can so they can get ready for winter,” she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.
The number of households in 2019 in area counties using heating oil or kerosene for heat.
County Households Percent
Bedford 12,903 65.3
Blair 13,330 25.9
Cambria 21,165 35.0
Centre 17,604 35.7
Clearfield 16,924 51.6
Huntingdon 10,691 63.8
Source: U.S. Census Bureau