Rising natural gas prices mean higher heating bills this winter, but relief is available for some families

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Despite record natural gas production, gas prices are expected to remain high for the foreseeable future, meaning higher heating bills for families throughout southeastern Ohio.

Monthly U.S. natural gas production reached an all-time high of 2.89 trillion cubic feet in 2022, exceeding the pre-pandemic record of 2.82 trillion cubic feet.

However, this increase in production comes at a time when the global demand for natural gas has increased dramatically because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent economic sanctions and wartime disruptions. Russia is the world’s second-largest producer of natural gas and the primary provider of natural gas to Western Europe.

In 2018, the United States produced 831,800 million cubic meters of natural gas, while Russia produced 669,500 million cubic meters. To meet global demand at a time of decreased global production, U.S. producers of natural gas have been exporting more liquified natural gas abroad, pushing U.S. exports to record highs.

On top of increased demand, U.S. natural gas storage balances are lower than in previous years.

“We’ve seen lower production growth and storage demand, coupled with an increased demand for liquified natural gas,” said Erica Chronaberry, a spokesperson for Columbia Natural Gas of Ohio.

Columbia Natural Gas operates a network of pipelines distributing natural gas from producers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to consumers throughout Ohio. Columbia’s pipelines are also linked to gas producers in Texas and Louisiana through the Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline.

A tanker anchored in small gas terminal island with tanks for storage
Natural gas prices have risen after lower production growth and storage demand, coupled with an increased demand for liquified natural gas. [Aerial-motion |]

Chronaberry said while natural gas production has been increasing since mid-August, it remained relatively steady up to that point.

“This will benefit consumers, though the market remains unpredictable, and we could still see price spikes depending on the weather and outside influences,” said Chronaberry.

Chronaberry also said that Ohio has a high demand for natural gas because of the number of factories located in the state. Many coal-fired power plants in Ohio have converted to natural gas, further increasing demand.

“The customers with the highest demand for natural gas are usually large industrial customers,” said Chronaberry. “Ohio is home to many manufacturers with high energy demands.”

While natural gas prices in Ohio have been rising, they are expected to remain below the national average. In fact, according to Chronaberry, the price of gas in the Midwest is generally lower than both the Gulf Coast and the Northeast.

This is partially due to extensive natural gas production in southeastern Ohio. While production has increased in recent years because of fracking, southeastern Ohio has been producing oil and gas since 1860 when the first oil wells were drilled in Washington County.

Here are some tips to mitigate high natural gas prices

Higher natural gas prices mean increased heating and energy bills heading into winter, when residential consumption is typically at its highest. Chronaberry said there are many small things consumers can do to keep their costs down.

“You can save on your energy bills by using your dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand,” said Chronaberry. “Washing dishes by hand uses 20 gallons of water, whereas using your dishwasher users 15 gallons.”

Other tips from Chronaberry include caulking cracks and applying weather stripping around your windows and doorways to prevent drafts from coming in and turning your thermostat down by one or two degrees.

Chronaberry also says families whose income is at or below 175% of the federal poverty line may apply for the Home Energy Assistance Program. In Athens County, HEAP is administered by Hocking Athens Perry Community Action.

HAPCAP offers relief for some families

Jessica Stroh, director of community services at HAPCAP, says that in addition to HEAP, Ohio has a State Home Energy Assistance Program that families can apply for.

“This is a one-time benefit that residents can get for their main heating source,” said Stroh. “The dollar amount can vary depending on a formula the state uses, but typically it’s around $800 to $1200.”

Another program offered through HAPCAP, in conjunction with Columbia Gas, is the Warm Choice program. This provides income-eligible individuals with weatherization and insulation, along with new, more energy efficient gas furnaces and water heaters at no cost.

“Even if you don’t qualify for HEAP, there might be another program that can help,” said Stroh. Those who are interested can schedule an appointment, either in-person or by phone, with a community resource navigator and learn what programs they are eligible for.