Lenny Spano of Hart Oil makes a home heating oil...

Lenny Spano of Hart Oil makes a home heating oil delivery. (March 15, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Long Islanders have saved on heating costs from the mild winter but those using natural gas have won the daily double -- enjoying lower prices and reduced consumption.

Long Islanders who heat with gas are paying 4.4 percent less for a given amount of it this winter than last, including a slightly reduced delivery charge, and have used about 17 percent less because of the weather, said National Grid. It forecasts its customers will pay 20 percent, or $200, less from Nov. 1 through the end of this month for heat, hot water and cooking -- or an average of about $835.

Oil heat customers, about 65 percent of Long Islanders, also have saved money this winter, but that's despite rising prices. The Oil Heat Institute of Long Island said the average home used about 35 percent, or 220 gallons, less oil than normal from Oct. 1 through the end of February -- or about 410 gallons, spending $1,676 and saving about $907 from what it would have cost in a normally cold winter. That's based on the average heating oil price from October through February of $4.09 a gallon.

As of Monday, the per gallon Long Island average among local dealers had climbed to $4.282 -- the highest ever for winter, though not the highest ever, said the state Energy Research and Development Authority; that was $4.93 in July of 2008.

For homeowners who drive, some of the savings are going out their car's tailpipes; gasoline prices have risen by almost 14 percent on Long Island since Dec. 26 -- to an average Wednesday of $4.028 for regular, according to the AAA.

Some Long Island home and business owners are switching heating fuels. National Grid said conversions from oil to natural gas are up by 9.4 percent so far this season to 7,391.

Prices of natural gas have been falling because it is plentiful, with production increasing, and because most of what's consumed in this country is produced in North America, so that supplies and prices aren't affected by political instability in producing regions such as the Middle East.

In contrast, crude oil, heating oil, gasoline and other refined products have surged in price this year despite ample supplies on fears of shortages from the current standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.

"They're just artificially high," said oil institute chief executive Kevin Rooney.

John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Llc in Manhattan, a hedge fund specializing in energy, said natural gas is likely to remain plentiful for years to come. "The situation just isn't changing," he said.

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