This week, overnight temperatures in Boston dropped into the 30s for the first time this fall and residents throughout the region reluctantly found themselves facing that age-old autumn question: Is it time to turn the heat on?
Like more than 3 million other folks in Massachusetts, Patricia Ferreira’s home is heated with natural gas.
"I don't look at the prices," she said.
She doesn't look at the prices for a very simple — and pretty common — reason. She lives with, "my mom and my daughter, so I have no choice, I have to heat it up."
But heating her home will likely be more expensive this year. Natural gas has been remarkably cheap for years, but low prices mean higher demand, and that has become an issue here in the Bay State, says Tom Kloza, chief gas analyst for GasBuddy, a website that tracks oil and gas prices.
"The big organs that sort of supply the natural gas are in the Gulf Coast or the Marcellus Shale or whatever," Kloza said.
While natural gas heats half of Bay State homes — and produces about two-thirds of our electricity — we don’t produce it here. And we can’t store it here.
"It’s just impossible to let’s say have it without pumping it on a moments notice," Kloza said.
The pipelines that ship the gas in are getting overwhelmed, especially during winter. That’s driving prices up — so much so that electricity rates just jumped up as much as 37 percent.
That spike is bad news for Billerica’s Robert Maharan, and the 10 percent of residents who use only electric heat. As for Norwood's Matt Morrison, he uses heating oil. If you do too, his strategy might sound familiar.
"To be honest with you, you kind of, you know, when you can save up money for it, you look at the tank and see what you can do as far as like, ehhh, I think I can get by another month or so with it," he said.
But there is good news for Morrison, and the some 30 percent of Bay State residents who heat their homes with oil. The same factors that are driving prices down at the pump are also driving them down for basement oil tanks.
"It’s really because we’ve seen an unprecedented drop in the price of crude," Kloza said. "Crude oil process globally are about $30 to $33 lower than they were in June."
Then there is the strong dollar, flat demand globally, and rising supply, also due in large part to the next generation drilling happening here in the U.S.
"The U.S. is producing about 3 million barrels a day more crude than we did during the first Arab Spring," Kloza said.
And unlike natural gas, there’s reasonable storage for oil throughout the region, which means that low prices now have a better chance of holding steady throughout the cold weather months.
"I would dare say that a home that uses heating oil this year could be saving $400, $500, vs. what they paid last year, even given the same winter," Kloza said.
Of course, the oil and gas markets are notoriously volatile. Anything from a storm in the Gulf Coast to an unexpected turn of events in the Middle East could change things dramatically.
And these shifts in price are all relative. It’s still New England after all. Winter is coming and it’s going to get cold. And no matter how you slice it, staying warm ain’t ever cheap.