The United States has plenty of fuel in storage for winter heating thanks to near full-throttle refinery production, but household energy bills are still likely to be up sharply, the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Friday.
"We don't expect a winter supply crunch," said EIA head Guy Caruso on the sidelines of the OPEC International Seminar industry conference. "But distillate prices are up and that will translate into higher heating bills."
U.S. heating oil supplies have grown to 53.1 million barrels, up 1.2 million from last year, while natural gas storage has risen to 2.874 trillion cubic feet, up 225 billion cubic feet from last year, according to the most recent government data.
"Refiners have built up stocks nicely before turnarounds," Caruso said, referring to planned refinery maintenance that could slow fuel production. Refineries have been operating above 90 percent of capacity since spring.
Despite the year-on-year stocks growth, a surge in crude oil prices this year, triggered by surging demand, has raised refining costs and boosted prices for fuels.
The EIA predicts that the average cost to a U.S. household using heating oil this winter will total $1,114, up from last year's average of $991, while households using natural gas will pay $1,010, up from last year's $863.
Crude oil futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange struck an all-time high of $49.40 a barrel in late August, but have since eased below $45.