Heating Oil Dealers ask Bush for Reserve Release

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U.S. fuel dealer groups urged President George W. Bush in a letter to order immediately the release of emergency heating oil supplies to help cool sky-high prices hitting consumers and dealers hard.

"It is on their behalf we urge you act immediately to release the 1.97 million barrels of that product from the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve by utilizing the discretionary authority provided you ..." said the letter, which was dated March 18.

The letter was signed by top officials from the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA), the New England Fuel Institute (NEFI) and the New York Oil Heating Association (NYOHA), and fuel dealer groups from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont, among others.

Average residential heating oil prices paid by Americans have surged to $3.68 a gallon, up more than 40 percent from a year ago, alongside a surge in the price of crude oil to all-time highs above $111 per barrel and a steep decline in Northeast stockpile levels, according to government data.

More than 9 million households in the United States rely on the fuel to heat their homes -- about 80 percent of them in the U.S. Northeast where supplies of heating oil are 25 percent below a year-ago, according to government data.

To help cool runaway crude prices, the groups also asked Bush immediately to halt shipments to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), America's emergency oil stockpile. "The reserve is already at 95 percent capacity, more than enough to satisfy the nation's energy needs in an emergency," the letter added.

Despite record crude oil prices, the Energy Department told Congress in late February it has no plans to stop adding about 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil to the SPR.

Releasing emergency supplies from the U.S. Northeast Heating Oil Reserve would have a short-term effect on lowering record retail heating oil prices, the head of the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Tuesday.

The fuel retailer groups said last week they were also considering sending a delegation to Congress to ask for a hike in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program -- a program created in 1982 to help the poor pay for heat.

The U.S. Senate last Thursday voted to double funding for LIHEAP to $5.1 billion for the 2009 budget year which begins on Oct. 1, short of the immediate fix the dealers demand.