The Boston Herald by Jay Fitzgerald Heating-oil prices are going up this winter amid concerns that jobless residents will have a tough time paying higher bills. According to the state’s Department of Energy Resources, the average price of heating oil is now about $2.95 a gallon, up 32 cents from a year ago. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that households this winter could spend about 12 percent more for heating oil, or about $220, due to projected colder weather and higher prices. Joe Kennedy, head of the nonprofit Citizens Energy, said the combination of high prices and high unemployment could lead to “awful consequences” for some households. About 7 million people applied to fuel-assistance programs last winter in the U.S. - and that number is expected to rise to about 8 million this year, said Kennedy, whose organization helps provide heating oil to needy people. The problem is made worse because federal funding for fuel-assistance programs is expected to decline this year, he warned. The reason for the spike in heating-oil costs is simple: rising crude oil prices. “You have enormous amounts of speculative money being invested” in oil, said Kennedy. Those who heat their homes with natural gas aren’t expected to get hit as hard. Natural gas is expected to increase about 4 percent this winter. Phil Giudice, commissioner of the state’s energy department, said crude oil and natural gas prices used to closely track each other. But new sources of natural gas have been discovered in recent years, driving down prices. “There are now different markets for the two of them,” he said of natural gas and oil.