The cost of home heating oil has seen huge increases since this time last year, and low-income Nova Scotians are feeling the crunch.
Denise Daley, the executive director of Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank in Halifax, is seeing food bank clients having to choose between paying for food and medication or home heating. It’s making her worry about the winter months.
According to Natural Resources Canada, the average weekly price of furnace oil in the Nova Scotia communities it tracks ranges from $2.12 per litre in Truro, to as much as $2.189 per litre in Sydney.
Prices in those communities are 73 per cent and 81 per cent higher, respectively, than they were a year ago.
Daley said as the price climbs, her organization is seeing an unprecedented demand for assistance.
“We are overwhelmed with applications at this time for our emergency assistance fund, but we’re trying our utmost best to catch up and to meet the demands that we’re seeing,” Daley said in an interview. “At this point, we have paused the fund because of the plethora of applications that are in.”
Natural Resources Canada says the average price for a litre of furnace oil in Halifax is $2.183 per litre, up from $1.212 a year ago.
Daley said Parker Street’s emergency assistance fund can be used for medication, heating or electricity costs, and is paid directly to the utility or pharmacy. The maximum the organization can pay at a time is $200, in order to help the most families possible.
Daley said inflation in all areas of life is taking its toll on many Nova Scotians. She said usually electricity is the most common bill that’s out of people’s reach, but furnace oil is creeping up.
“So far we we’re at 80 [families asking for help with oil], compared to last year, being about 40 for oil assistance. So it’s definitely climbing,” Daley said, adding they’re expecting more requests when they reopen applications.
Applications also opened la week ago for the province’s Heating Assistance Rebate Program, which provides up to $200 to help low-income Nova Scotians with home heating costs.
Low inventory causing high prices
Vijay Muralidharan, managing director of Calgary-based R Cube Economic Consulting, says the rising cost of heating oil is mostly being caused by low inventories around the world.
“So Russia’s war on Ukraine created high gas prices. Now when you have high gas prices, low-income countries or middle-income countries [that] run on gas have to look for alternatives. What’s the alternative? Diesel fuel and heating oil,” Muralidharan said.
He said with higher demand, refineries haven’t been able to keep up, and stocks have been depleted.
“We are entering this winter season with the lowest stock ever recorded in the history,” he said. “This is unforeseen.”
And Muralidharan predicts prices will continue to climb as the weather cools and the European Union embargo on Russian oil and gas begins in December.
Daley is concerned about what this means for the food bank’s clients, but has hope.
“We are worried, however we have faith in the community because once we have funds, we give it out,” she said. “The more funds we get in our emergency assistance fund, the more people we can assist. So we have faith in the community that they’ll come on out and send a donation.”