Heating bills continue to rise across Oklahoma


Saturday, November 19th 2005, 11:26 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Local natural gas utility prices soared past record highs this month as utilities repeated their warnings that consumers should expect larger-than-average heating bills this winter.

Most Oklahoma Natural Gas customers will pay $11.04 per dekatherm for their November heating, 58 percent more than $6.99 per dekatherm they paid in October and 36 percent above the company's previous record high price of $7.88 set in January 2001.

``This is simply a reflection of the reality we've been warning our customers about for some time,'' ONG spokesman Don Sherry said Friday.

A dekatherm is roughly the amount of heat energy generated from burning 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas. An average ONG residential customer uses 79 dekatherms every year.

Midwest City resident Lisa Williams said she and her family will have to lower the thermostat and make other changes if their heating bills continue to climb.

``We're going to definitely have to cut down as much as we can,'' she said. ``It's going to be a rough winter with those prices. I don't believe we'll have to go without heat, but we're definitely not going to be running the dishwasher as much, and we'll have to do other things to keep our bill down.''

Most Centerpoint Arkla customers will pay $9.63 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas, up nearly 18 percent from the $8.19 last month.

Natural gas utilities are allowed to profit only on the delivery of gas and not on the cost of buying the gas. The purchase cost is passed directly to consumers.

The utility companies and state and federal regulators for months have been warning that Oklahoma winter heating costs could be as high as 35 percent more than last winter because of increased demand and soaring crude oil prices.

Recent hurricanes made the situation worse by knocking much of the Gulf of Mexico production off-line at least temporarily. About 30 percent of the production is still shut in, Sherry said.

ONG and Centerpoint contract to buy about half of their winter heating needs during the summer, when prices are generally lowest. This year, however, natural gas market prices held well above the five-year average throughout the summer.

While market prices have fallen in recent weeks, ONG and Centerpoint said their November prices are affected both by the more expensive fuel they bought in October and by the expectation that market prices will remain high.