Although home heating oil prices are slightly higher than they were this time last year, the outlook for the cold weather season is far from being decided for consumers.
The cost of oil to consumers is affected by many factors, including the harshness of the winter, the price of crude oil per barrel, the overall economic condition, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the price of competing energy like natural gas, wood and coal, said Penn State professor emeritus in the College of Agricultural Sciences Dennis Buffington.
He said it is hard to put a number on an affordable price for consumers and whether this years prices will fall into that range, but he thinks demand will be lower this year, which could be good news for consumers.
AccuWeather, however, is predicting a larger than average snowfall this winter, a factor that could potentially bring prices back up.
C Beard Oil Inc. owner Rebecca Beard said the industry is becoming harder and harder to predict, and she has been trying to base her prices on the stock market along with several other determining factors.
The Port Matilda company is selling the oil at $3.53 per gallon, a little higher than this time last year but in line with national averages.
You never ever know (the outlook for prices), she said. Before all the problems we had in the foreign countries, the price just went down a little bit.
Beard also acknowledged that competing heating sources such as wood, coal and natural gas keep her on her toes and threaten to keep oil prices lower.
People are going to different fuels because oil is so expensive, she said.
Stacey Ingram, of Ingram Fuels Inc. in Howard, said if trends keep going the way they are, heating oil could completely price itself out of the market in the coming years. Her company has begun selling propane and coal in addition to oil to reach a larger customer base.
Buffington said, barring unrest in the Middle East and other extraneous factors, that oil prices could stay lower long term as the popularity of natural gas continues to rise and oil demand slips.
Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan