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Americans face higher winter heating bills

American natural gas and heating oil bills will be higher this winter than previously thought, the U.S. government said on Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

The utility bills to warm American homes with natural gas and heating oil will be higher this winter than previously thought, the U.S. government said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration raised its estimate for the average winter price for residential natural gas to $9.57 per thousand cubic feet from its estimate of $9.24 last month.

That would boost the total winter natural gas bill for the average household by $18 over the previous forecast to $866, according to the Energy Department's analytical arm.

The average natural gas bill last winter was $799 based on a gas price of $8.39.

The price for heating oil was revised up a penny to $1.38 a gallon, EIA said, raising the total average winter bill to $951 from a previous forecast of $947.

Last winter, a heating oil price of $1.34 resulted in an average household bill of $991. The average heating oil bill was higher compared to this winter because demand for heating fuel was much stronger due to colder temperatures.

Separately, the agency raised its estimate for the average gasoline pump price during the January-March period by 1 penny to $1.52 a gallon and 2 cents higher in the second quarter to $1.57.

"Due to high crude oil costs and the tight inventory situation, pump prices may increase on a monthly basis through the rest of winter and into late spring," EIA said.

Other highlights of EIA's monthly energy forecast were:

  • U.S. crude oil should average $31.35 a barrel this winter, up 85 cents from the prior estimate, due to strong oil demand and tight oil inventories.
  • OPEC oil production is almost 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) above the cartel's official output quota.
  • U.S. oil demand in 2003 grew 1.4 percent to about 20 million bpd, and in 2004 is expected to climb another 390,000 bpd, or 1.9 percent.
  • Electricity demand is expected to grow by 2.2 percent this year and 2.3 percent in 2005 as the U.S. economy expands.