Left Out In The Cold

The nationwide average price for regular gasoline last week was $1.32 a gallon, up four pennies from the week before.

But the big spike was in the cost of home heating oil. CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell reports.
It's one of the coldest Januarys in years in the Northeast. And that's putting the heat on heating oil companies to keep up with demand - and the bite on millions of consumers. In Bristol, Conn., Peggy Diagle's bill for two months of heating oil is $354.

"Oh my God, it's twice as high as last year. Unbelievable," she says.

A year ago the price of a gallon of heating oil was about 80 cents. Last week it was $1.20, and this week even oil retailers say they can't believe prices.

"This week it's been frightfully high. It's gone as high as $1.77," says Len Bicknell of Alvin Hollis oil company.

The cost is even higher in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the price is $1.89 a gallon. Analysts say the big culprits are the extended deep freeze and OPEC's decision to cut production of crude oil.

"Looking forward, the expectation we have is that OPEC will at some point release more oil and ease the supply crunch," says Michael Rothman of Merrill Lynch.

At the same time, politicians in the Northeast, which uses 75 percent of the nation's heating oil supply, are asking the president to release some of the government's oil reserves.

Many consumers are simply accusing oil retailers of gouging.

But retailers are telling angry customers don't blame them for those sky-high bills.

New shipments of oil from Russia are on the way, which could at least stabilize prices perhaps just in time. The national forecast for the next month calls for more record low temperatures.

©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved

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