WASHINGTON -- Families using natural gas can expect their heating bills to drop about $119 this winter. Those who heat with oil or electricity are likely to see their bills rise.
The government issued predictions yesterday based on its forecast of a mild winter for most of the nation and its assessment of energy supplies and costs as the nation's oil and natural gas production and refinery output recover from hurricane damage in 2005.
"This is a very different scene than we had a year ago in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said Guy Caruso, head of the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department's statistical agency.
The hurricanes knocked out 20 percent of the nation's gas production, severely damaged Gulf Coast gas processing facilities, and shut more than a dozen refineries -- an impact "we're only now recovering from," Caruso said.
"The greatest beneficiaries will be those who use natural gas because prices went up 29 percent last year" and have since fallen back, he said.
The Energy Department forecast that the average household using natural gas will pay $826 for home hearing this winter, down $119 or 12.5 percent from last winter. Natural gas is the largest source of home heating in the United States -- the primary fuel for 58 percent of all households.
A third of US households rely on electricity as their primary heating fuel. The government estimates they are expected to pay an average of $839 for heat this winter, up $58 from last winter. Electric heat is most prevalent in the South where 52 percent of households use it.
Fuel oil users can expect to pay $1,522 on average this winter, up $91 from last winter. They represent only 7 percent of nation's households, but about half the homes in New England.
Households that rely primarily on propane are expected to pay an average of $1,265 this winter, down $15 from last year. Propane is the primary heat source for only 5 percent of US households.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration projected yesterday that most of the country will see above-normal winter temperatures, though slightly cooler than last year winter.