Firewood Prices On The Rise Even As Oil Prices Fall

Talk about an unintended consequence!

Fracking has allowed the US to become the largest producer of natural gas in th world as well as made oil reserves available that previously had been uneconomical to extract. With fracking oil and natural gas prices fell to levels not seen in years. In turn that dropped the prices of gasoline, diesel, heating fuels and host of other petrochemical products to levels not seen in years.

Yet despite the drop in prices, particularly those of heating fuels like oil, kerosene, and propane, the prices are still quite high for some us. Like many others here in the Northeast, we use wood to heat our home. In general we will go through somewhere around three and four cords of wood to heat The Manse from October through April. One would think that with heating fuel prices being less than half what they were two years ago that the demand for cord wood would fall off. But the demand has remained steady, at least here in New England. Some of that could be because some folks like heating with wood, be it through a woodstove or something fancier like a wood-fired furnace. There's nothing homier to me than to coming home and seeing a fire burning in the woodstove, pouring out heat that keeps almost the entire house nice and warm. The problem?

Firewood prices have gone up around 30 percent over the past two years.

One would think they would stay the same or even fall a little seeing as all of the other heating fuel prices have plummeted. But the demand for wood is high and growing. Why?

Because of fracking.

A timber industry representative in New Hampshire said hydraulic fracturing well sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation to suck natural gas out of the ground are using construction “mats” made of hardwood logs to get heavy equipment over mucky ground, wetlands or soft soils.

That increased demand has crept down the chimney into fireplaces. Prices in parts of New England are averaging $325 a cord and can even push past $400 for a seasoned, delivered load. That’s anywhere from $50 to $75 more a cord than last year — or an increase of 18 to 23 percent.

While fracking is a big part of the demand, other construction project are also driving the prices higher.

Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, said it’s not just fracking sites that are hogging the logs. Pipelines and transmission wires — really any large-scale construction project — have in the past three years ramped up the appetite for the perfect mat log: a hardwood trunk, 16 to 20 feet long and 8 to 10 inches in diameter.

As a result, the cost of cordwood on the stump (that is, live trees) went from $10 in 2012 in northern New Hampshire to $15 this year, Stock said.

With two large projects slated for construction here in New England – a new natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania through Massachusetts and New Hampshire and the Northern Pass powerlines through New Hampshire bringing hydropower from Quebec – there's going to be a high demand for logs.

Who'da thunk that something that would bring lower energy prices would raise energy prices in another sector of the energy market?

For now heating with wood is still cheaper, at least here at The Manse, even with our four cords of firewood running us around $1400. Propane, our other heating fuel, would still run us about $2400 even at the low prices were we to heat with it exclusively.