Thursday, October 29, 2015

Oil and gas industry's high demand for mat logs sending firewood costs in New England soaring

The Marcellus Shale oil and gas industry is being blamed for soaring firewood costs in New England, where a cord is going for $325 to $400, an 18 to 23 percent increase over last year, Rik Stevens reports for The Associated Press. "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" used to get heavy equipment over mucky ground, wetlands or soft soils. (AP Photo by Robert F. Bukaty: Bridgton, Maine residents Terri and Bob Tomchak  have stocked up on firewood.)

High demand for mat logs is leading to an increase in prices, Stevens writes. "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," said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. Stock told Stevens, “If you’re putting in a power line or gas line over wetlands or soft soil, they use thousands and thousands of these mats, and they’re made of hardwood logs. If you’re in the firewood business, that’s your sweet spot. That’s the log you want.”

While about 2.5 million households in the U.S. burned wood to keep warm in 2013—2.1 percent of total households—numbers are much higher in New England, Stevens writes. In Vermont, 16.3 percent of households burn wood; Maine, 12.7 percent; and New Hampshire, 7.7 percent. The Pacific Northwest also has high numbers—Idaho, 7.8 percent, and Oregon, 7.1 percent—but the New England winter last year was brutal, while the Northwest enjoyed a milder winter.

High demand and high costs have made firewood scarce in some areas, David Weissman reports for the York Dispatch News in York, Pa. The owners of the area's two local companies say they are already sold out of seasoned wood. Both owners say the number of suppliers are down, leading one to sell out two months ago and the other to sell out earlier this month.

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