As the Weather Turns Cool, Kerosene in Short Supply to Heat Mobile Homes

A street in the River’s Edge community in Beacon Falls (CT Examiner)

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Kerosene is in short supply this fall, and both residents and fuel dealers say they haven’t been able to get the fuel ahead of the home heating season. As a heating fuel in Connecticut, kerosene is used almost exclusively to heat mobile homes.

David Spurgas, owner of Viking Fuel in Norwich, said he is actually expecting a shipment of kerosene any day, but until now wholesalers have been holding off on buying kerosene because the November futures prices for the fuel have been heading down.

“A lot of the wholesalers are really reluctant to take a barge in case the price goes down on it,” Spurgas said.

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It’s not unusual for the supply of kerosene to be low in spring and summer, since there is virtually no demand for the heating fuel in the warmer seasons, but fears over the low futures prices have stretched that lack of availability into October, he said.

Spurgas said he thinks that wholesalers will start to carry more kerosene heading into November because they know there will be demand for it. But Connecticut Energy Marketers Association President Chris Herb was less optimistic, saying the conditions that led to the tight supply don’t appear to be going anywhere in the short-term. 

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine cutting off Europe’s supplies of natural gas, heating oil and kerosene, prices are higher for those fossil fuels overseas, driving more exports overseas, and leaving less supply here, Herb said.

Demand for kerosene in the northeast U.S. has also declined to the point where it’s really a “niche fuel” used only for outdoor heating fuel tanks – almost entirely for mobile homes, Herb said. Spurgas said all of the kerosene Viking sells is for mobile homes.

Low demand means less incentive for refiners to produce kerosene, so there is already a lower supply of kerosene, Herb said. And now those refiners are focusing even more on producing diesel – effectively the same as heating oil – because of the market for that fuel in Europe.

“We’re experiencing two things converging at the same time: Demand for kerosene overseas has increased because of the war, and production has been reduced because of its declining use,” Herb said. “Then when you have increased demand for a fuel that is not in robust supply, it leads to these spot outages.”

The good news for mobile home residents who rely on kerosene for heat is that they can also use heating oil in their outdoor tanks, if the fuel dealer mixes certain additives into it, Herb said.

Kerosene is common for mobile homes because their fuel tanks are outside and exposed to the cold. At cold temperatures, heating oil “gels” into a solid. But kerosene has a much lower freezing point than heating oil, so it’s better suited for outdoor tanks, Herb said.

But those additives can prevent heating oil from solidifying, making it a “more than acceptable” alternative to kerosene, Herb said. Just let the fuel dealer handle the additives, because mixing them improperly could make the fuel worse, he said.

“Please, please do not do it yourself,” Herb said. “It’s like taking too much of a medication, it can end up working against what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Whether customers end up finding kerosene or move to heating oil with additives, their fuel is likely to be more expensive than usual this winter – and anyone who needs help with heating assistance should call 411 to see if they qualify for state assistance or for support from Operation Fuel, Herb said.