The recent spike in heating-oil prices - driven by such factors as the price of OPEC crude and basic undersupply - caught many US homeowners by surprise.
The surge also pinched everyone from airlines to truckers hauling freight, resulting in higher pass-along costs for travelers and consumers.
But the overall use of fuel oil has been declining, albeit gradually, as efficiency of use has increased. Demand for other energy sources, including natural gas and electricity (often generated by burning oil) increased or remained consistent.
Though it may be little comfort to cold citizens trying to cope with heating-oil bills, the price of oil overall has gone down considerably in inflation-adjusted dollars. In 1981, the cost of a barrel of oil was around $40, compared to less than $20 in 1999.
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