Washington Even with a normal winter, consumers are likely to spend an average of $190 to $240 more this year to heat their homes if they use natural gas or oil, an Energy Department report predicted Friday.
With an expectation that colder weather will return this year after three unusually mild winters, the report said a long cold spell could strain supplies of natural gas and heating oil despite the introduction of emergency oil supplies from a government reserve.
"Potentially it could be a somewhat difficult winter if we have a sustained cold spell," Mark Mazur, acting administrator of the department's Energy Information Administration, said in releasing the report.
Still, Mazur said, most customers, including residential users should be able to get oil and natural gas, although some "interruptible" industrial customers which agree to switch to alternate fuels if there is a supply problem may encounter shortages.
Additional oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will ease the supply situation by producing 3 million to 5 million barrels more heating oil and diesel fuel, Mazur said. He said the EIA analysis also did not take into account the new stockpile of 2 million barrels of heating oil in the Northeast, which would be released only if there is a severe supply interruption.
"Fuel oil inventories remain very tight," said the EIA report.
Crude oil stocks are 17 million barrels below levels a year ago. Distillate stocks (heating oil and diesel fuel) remain 40 percent below a year ago along the East Coast, where people rely heavily on oil to heat their homes.