I didn't know we had one . . . . . .

Salon is carrying an AP story about the Northeast Heating Oil Reserve.
Congress five years ago created a 2-million-barrel Northeast heating oil reserve that is to be used in case of supply shortages or delivery problems in nine states from Maine to Pennsylvania. Fuel oil is widely used in the Northeast to heat homes and businesses.

The government stockpile of heating fuel, which is rotated regularly while held at private terminals in New York Harbor and Connecticut, has never been used.

 The article notes that
Bodman said that a decision to release additional government stocks of crude oil, or for the first time tap the government's Northeast heating oil reserve, will be considered by Bush.

"We are prepared to do what is necessary with regards to the strategic reserves," Bodman said, adding that the president has indicated "he is prepared to do whatever it takes" to meet supply needs.

 This may indicate that the realisation as to the seriousness of the GOMEX situation is now rising to higher levels.  Since the supply is very obviously cited for the benefit of the North East, one wonders how this might tie in with needs in the upper Mid West, to pick just one place.  And who decides what?  So far in the selling of the oil from the SPR those who have asked have been  given, since the numbers have not reached the limits that were set.  Of course this also relates to the type of crude that the refineries want, since there is now some surplus Mexican oil around, as was posted last night.

Does price now decide who gets what ? It will be interesting to see how this works out - after all how far west do we have to move to be no longer considered part of the North-East?

More information on the reserve from the EIA and for those who can't be bothered with the Salon advert here is the same news from China, with more information as to how it came about here.

This is today's pleasant surprise, Slate carries a story about the unpleasant one, the rising cost that the heating oil will  carry.  (Interesting question I wonder who sets the price that the government will sell its oil for ?]. The story points out that heating oil is bought in large chunks, and thus the impact of the price increase is more severe.  Given also that it is pre-purchased - you fill your tank normally ahead of the storms - one wonders if the price will leave more people buying less and gambling on a milder winter. Which is not, I don't think on the cards this year.  This could be the precursor to some difficult winters ahead, but if this is relatively mild it may be a sufficient wake-up call to get a broader discussion on a long term plan, rather than just relying on temporary fixes that may not always be there. UPDATE: Poten has an interesting story in pdf format about the shipping of oil around the country.

Six foreign flag vessels were reported fixed to carry cargoes from New York to the U.S. Gulf, an extremely unusual situation since cargoes are normally fixed from the U.S. Gulf to the Northeast. These cargoes were intended to take advantage of the differential in gasoline prices between New York and Houston. All but one of these fixtures failed because congestion is at such a high level in Gulf coast ports that the financial incentive would be eaten away in demurrage charges. However, the price differential is causing a diversion of cargoes destined for the Northeast to the U.S. Gulf.
. The article goes on to point out the impact of the lack of handling facilities in the Gulf may have on shipping availability in the future. And this is still in the early days of the situation.
Oh yeah, you guys in the Midwest should really get one of these. I sleep much better at nightHere's the link to the EIA:

Northeast Heating Oil Reserve

On July 10, 2000, President Clinton directed the Department of Energy to establish the Northeast Heating Oil Reserve. The reserve is intended to reduce the risks presented by home heating oil shortages, such as the ones experienced in December 1996 and January-February 2000.

Maximum inventory of heating oil in the reserve will be two million barrels. The Department of Energy believes that a two-million-barrel reserve will provide relief from weather-related shortages for approximately ten days, which is the time for ships to bring heating oil from the Gulf of Mexico to New York Harbor. Inventory for the reserve was acquired by exchanging crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for heating oil to be delivered to the storage facilities.

For more information on the Northeast Heating Oil Reserve, please contact Mr. Nathan Harvey from the Office of Petroleum Reserves at (202) 586-4734."

I might call Mr. Harvey to ask if he thinks those ships from the Gulf of Mexico are really coming.

Hadn't noticed that bit - and as you can see from the UPDATE the current thought is that the ships might be going the other way.

Has some good stuff see there "down for the count"

There are several weeks worth of idle supertankers to discharge (no facilites/refinery capacity to discharge to) before the GOM facilities can clear -
CNN reports that Americans are using their "ingenuity" to find ways to cope with energy "strangulation":


I always thought most victims of strangulation cope by dying. Hmmm.

The northeast uses heating oil a lot more than the rest of the country.  Presumably, if the reserve is tapped for the northeast, there would be more for the rest of the country (from the open market).  

The Midwest could still be screwed, though.  They're big on natural gas heat there.  The choice will likely end up being between electricity and residential heating.  Rolling blackouts during cold snaps.  We came close to it a couple of years ago.  And that was a relatively mild winter, with a relatively cool summer before it.

Maybe I'm missing something, but a heating oil reserve of 2 million barrels seems to be pretty skimpy as far as being able to make much of a difference as a regional reserve for the Northeast.  

The arithmetic is simple:  if you assume each household uses at least 600 gallons of heating oil per heating season, then your 2 million barrels would  cover roughly 140,000 households. As there are roughly 50 million people in what is generally considered to be the Northeast, and if we assume 4 persons per household, then we have roughly 12.5 million households. On that basis, this reserve could provide heating oil to only a little over one percent of the total number of households in the Northeast.

That doesn't seem like much of a cushion to me.

They say in the EIA comment that I left above that the 2 million gallon supply is only intended to last for 10 days, when presumably the tankers from the GOM would arrive in NY Harbor. You are right that it is not a huge margin of error. It means that everyone should top off their tank NOW!
NOAA is projecting above average temperatures for most of the west this winter, with the zone of higher-than-average temperature expanding eastwards as the season progresses (description here clearer than NOAA's own).  However, the skill in the seasonal forecast is not that great.

The Farmers Almanac seems to be projecting a mixed bag with cold in the northeast, south and midatlantic regions, and around the Great Lakes in Jan-Feb.  The Farmers Almanac claims better skill (80-85% accuracy) but I wouldn't bet on either forecast being right.  

Thanks for all that info. Are there any data on the difference in overall heating fuel consumption for a winter with average temperatures versus one that's cold? Or perhaps someone who has compared their own house's heating bill under such conditions might comment? Over here in Tokyo for the past decade, I've been getting by with a small electric space heater for the cold nights. But I spent a couple of years in Toronto, where the winds come straight down from the Pole. Long stretches of very cold weather must increase fuel consumption considerably in the US mid-west, north-east and elsewhere, but how much?

In any event, after all the talk of global warming's contribution to the ferocity of hurricanes, it'll be high irony if expectations shift to the "benefit" of a warm winter...

Heating degree days, or HDD, is the usual input for estimating the cost, etc.  For example they are used in computing the settlement value of weather futures contracts.  The heating degree day value of a given day is, given the average temp that day AD, 65-AD.  So the cost is linear in how cold it gets.  So for what it's worth...

The mean temp in Chicago in Jan is 21F, or 31*(65-21) -> 1364HDD.
The mean temp in Tokyo in Jan is 38F, or 31*(65-31) -> 806HDD

Or Chicago has 69% more HDD compared to Tokyo; but it seems a bit bogus to me.  I assume having an average temp. below freezing is very different from one above freezing.  I'd assume that the cost change isn't linear.