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It’s time, once again, for the Fuel Oil News Sourcebook. In addition to a comprehensive series of directories covering important industry product vendors and service providers, we also offer our annual survey of the industry. Due to the nature of the survey, it provides a view of a slice of the industry that will change each year, not just from trends in the marketplace, but from the selection of respondents. This year was no exception.

As is typically the case, we had much stronger representation from dealers and marketers in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. They also tended to be smaller, more home-heating focused operations as with respondents from the West. Respondents from the Midwest and South tended to be larger petroleum marketers with more substantial motor fuels business.

While you can’t make direct apples to apples comparisons, the survey results were similar to last year. In spite of the high oil prices in place early during the survey and overlapping into the low oil prices and recession towards the end, the outlook on future business was better than might be expected.

This year’s respondents saw a slightly higher gas threat than last year, yet reported fewer customers lost. Most planned on buying new trucks, tanks and trailers, but perhaps fewer than previously. The percent of companies reporting that business improved in 2008 was down, but not by disastrous levels.

The looming New Year, in spite of the economic downturn, promises to have a silver lining in lower oil prices. Will the low prices last until the 2009 heating season? No one can say for sure. There is a lot that can happen with OPEC or international events in the Middle East that can change things overnight. But, recessions typically drive down demand both locally and internationally, and any artificial price inflation through excessive speculation will likely be discouraged during this period as well.

There is also the matter of a new president in the White House and a stronger Democratic flavor in Congress. In spite of a likely push towards ‘green” energy solutions at the federal level, it might be expected that there will be more support for homeowners using traditional energy if prices get high and opportunities from credits and subsidies for diversified companies in the industry to help promote biodiesel blended heating oil, solar, efficient heat pumps and other crossover solutions.

With that, good luck and happy holidays to all of our readers, and we’ll visit again in 2009.

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