For a significant number of homes in the Northeast U.S., turning up the thermostat or opening the hot water tap almost completely relies on the Coast Guard.
Called Operation Reliable Energy for Northeast Winters (RENEW), the Coast Guard annually sends icebreaking tugs and other vessels to ply the waterways of New York and New England, allowing commerce to flow free of ice and ensuring aids to navigation do not become hazards if moved by ice.
Roughly 6 million homes in the region are heated by oil. These homes consume about 85 percent of the heating oil used in the U.S. each year, with 90 percent of it delivered by barge on waterways that are prone to freezing over, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
This winter, the Coast Guard kicked-off its annual icebreaking season on December 18, and almost immediately had work to do on the Hudson River, Providence River, Boston Harbor, Penobscot River in Maine, and many smaller waterways in the region that needed ice clearing.