Pray for a Warm Winter: Heating Bills Headed Up

Higher crude oil prices will force consumers to dig even deeper into their pockets to pay this winter's heating bills, as costs for heating oil, natural gas and propane will be more than previously expected, the government's top energy forecasting agency said Tuesday.

Heating Oil Delivery Truck
Heating Oil Delivery Truck

Households in the Northeast using heating oil will take the biggest financial hit, paying a record $3.06 a gallon on average for the fuel this winter, 66 cents more than last winter, according to the Energy Information Administration's new monthly forecast.

Heating oil costs in the region, which is the biggest U.S. market for the fuel, are expected to average $1,879 for the winter, up 25 percent from last winter and $79 more than the EIA's previous forecast.

Rising crude oil prices, which reached a record $97 per barrel Tuesday over concerns about tight supplies, are being passed on to consumers in both the petroleum heating fuels and gasoline they buy.

The national price for gasoline soared 14 cents over the last to week to top $3 a gallon for the first time ever in November.

Every $1 rise in the price of a barrel of crude increases the costs for most refined petroleum products, like heating and gasoline, by 2 cents to 2.5 cents per gallon.

Consumers who rely on natural gas to warm their homes will spend $900 this winter, 11 percent more than last year and $9 more than the EIA's prior estimate.

Propane users, who are located mainly in rural areas, will see $1,622 in winter expenses, up 20 percent from last winter and $52 more than the agency's earlier projections.

Consumers who heat with electricity will receive the best deal this winter, paying just $845 for the season, only 2.7 percent more than last year and $10 less than the EIA previously forecast.

The agency's price estimates are based on the U.S. winter heating season running from October through next March.

With energy prices high this winter, more families are expected to turn to a federal program that helps the poor pay their utility bills.

U.S. lawmakers have reached a deal to increase the budget for the government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by about $431 million. However, the White House has said it would veto legislation that boosted LIHEAP funding.