Moving forward with oil
Sometimes you can do everything right but the economics just don’t work. Such is the case with the Canadian Oil Heat Association, which has dramatically scaled back its activities.
As an organization it seemed to be making progress under the leadership of COHA president Stephen Koch against some very tough problems including a declining oil heat market, runaway oil spill cleanup costs, an unfriendly insurance industry and government off-oil programs.
All those issues, in the end, proved too much as the organization’s board voted Jan. 13 to close its national office and shift day-to-day operations to individual COHA chapters.
What now? I don’t believe that oil heat is going to disappear anytime soon. It is still widely used where it is not practical to run underground gas lines. In Newfoundland and much of the Atlantic provinces, or on the Canadian Shield that covers much of northern Ontario – the places where the bedrock is just a foot or two under the floor slab – oil heating still makes a lot of sense.
In those places the other options are propane and electricity. Oil compares favorably. Prices have stabilized. The spike that occurred a few years ago when crude oil hit $140 U.S. per barrel oil is unlikely to re-occur given the current supply. Heat pumps are making inroads, but after a severe winter some of those that replaced their oil systems are wishing they’d kept them, as a backup at the very least.
The insurance industry along with an unreasonable if not downright incompetent approach to spill cleanup continues to be a barrier. The oil heating industry needs a strong national voice to deal with issues like that.
Priority number one for the five COHA chapters will no doubt be to re-structure their affairs to operate independently. However, a strong second priority should be to reach out to oil heating contractors/dealers, manufacturers, oil suppliers and wholesalers in those provinces that don’t have a COHA chapter and find a way to keep them involved.
On a personal level, I will miss going to the national conferences and chatting with a lot of great down-to-earth people. I hope this new strategy is successful for COHA and that the industry will be able to move forward.