EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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September 11, 2013

Turmoil in Syria sends pre-buy oil prices soaring

Price fluctuations lead to pre-buy concerns

As colder weather draws near, fuel companies are asking customers to decide if they plan to purchase home heating oil contracts with fixed rates.

But turmoil in the Middle East, especially Syria, has made that annual decision a little more difficult than usual.

President Barack Obama’s consideration of a possible airstrike against Syria has led to volatility in world petroleum markets, leading to rapidly rising prices in the past two weeks.

Southern New Hampshire fuel companies have reported prices increases of 10 to 15 cents a gallon ever since Obama threatened military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Assad is accused of leading a chemical weapons attack last month that killed more than 1,400 Syrians outside Damascus.

With some companies setting Sept. 30 as the deadline to sign up, fuel customers are calling to check on the widely fluctuating rates. If the market price rises, firms increase their prices as well.

Home heating oil averaged $3.411 a gallon in the area yesterday, according to NewEnglandOil.com.

“Our cost went up 15 cents one day last week,” said Bill West, manager of Rockingham Oil in Derry. “There was speculation. Are we going to bomb or are we not?”

At Palmer Gas/Ermer Oil in Atkinson, the price of a gallon of oil increased about 10 cents in the last two weeks because of the situation in Syria, general manager Joseph Trefethen said.

That’s affected fixed-rate contracts as well, Trefethen said.

“With the volatility going on in our world, you don’t know what the price is going to be come January,” he said. “With the pre-buy contracts, the prices for gallons this month have risen dramatically.”

Customers traditionally purchase fixed-rate contracts in the summer and early fall to protect themselves from soaring price increases in the winter. More customers are relying on budget plans so they can spread their fuel payments over a 12-month period, according to Palmer Gas/Ermer Oil customer service representative Natalie Taylor.

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