Heating oil prices on Long Island have dropped for the first time since early January, after reaching a winter record on the bitter cold and tight supplies.
The heating fuel used by most Long Islanders averaged $4.427 a gallon Monday at full-service dealers in Nassau and Suffolk, the state Energy Research and Development Authority said. That's down 4.3 cents from a week earlier -- but up almost 43 cents from mid-November. The Long Island average for heating oil hit a winter season record of $4.47 Feb. 10. The record for any season was $4.93 a gallon, in July 2008.
The National Weather Service said January averaged almost 3 degrees colder than normal and that February so far has been 4 degrees below normal. Experts have blamed the higher fuel prices on heavy demand and some planned and unplanned refinery shutdowns.
But the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island, a trade group, places much of the blame on large natural gas users who agree, in return for discounted gas prices, to switch to heating oil at utilities' request when cold weather or other factors strain gas supplies in the region.
The institute says more than 3,900 such "interruptible" customers are in National Grid and Con Edison service areas, mostly large volume users, including industrial complexes, public schools, universities, hospitals, nursing homes and government and apartment buildings. They have oil and natural gas heating equipment. Their gas supplies were interrupted for a total of 14 days in January and one so far in February, said the institute. Most are in the city. National Grid said about 220 are on Long Island.
They keep some oil in storage, but when supplies run out or run low they go into the market to purchase more. The institute's chief executive, Kevin Rooney, said in an email that the additional demand during extended cold weather periods strains "our ability to deliver to and supply our customers, as well as having a dramatic, upward impact on prices."
He plans to meet April 3 with officials of the state Public Service Commission to urge, among other things, that interruptible customers keep more oil on hand when physically possible. The commission's public relations office said the proposal would be considered.
Meanwhile, National Grid said Wednesday it expects its natural gas customers to pay 3 percent more for heat this winter than last, mostly because colder weather has increased usage and, to a smaller extent, because the gas price has risen.
On Wednesday natural gas for March delivery surged 59.8 cents to $6.149 per 1 million Btus in New York, the highest settlement since Dec. 3, 2008. It receded by 10.9 cents Thursday closing at $6.04.
Oil prices on LI
Average price per gallon of heating oil at Long Island full-service dealers
Year earlier: $4.369
Recent low: $3.999 on Nov. 11, 2013
Source: New York State Energy Research and Development Authority