The price of oil reached a record high of $147 on July 11, 2008. Could such a sharp, unexpected spike occur again?
Could the Middle East’s dispute involving Qatar and several of its neighbors lead to higher prices at a pump near you? Absolutely. Read more
OPEC has cried wolf again, but there’s reason to believe that this time, the cartel is serious about constricting oil production. Which, of course, will send the price — and thus the price of gasoline — upward. And there’s nothing American drivers will be able to do about it.
John Hofmeister went on CNBC on Thursday to talk about the current and future price of oil, and he gave viewers more to think about when he elevated the discussion to include the need for alternatives to meet the world’s growing appetite for transportation fuel.
Media organizations and analysts who follow the oil industry have been playing their sad fiddles for companies that once posted jaw-dropping profits. Stories seldom focus on the global benefit that low oil (and gasoline prices) provide to consumers, who have enjoyed a $3 trillion “transfer of wealth” since oil was at $115 two summers ago. Read more
And boy, are there a lot of fools.
We hope you’re enjoying cheap gasoline for the holidays. Because the party will end sooner or later, and the hangover will be a doozy.
Even with a surge the past two days, oil prices have been on the downward slide the past 14 months, dropping from about $115 a barrel to around $40. But that hasn’t translated to savings at the pump for all drivers.
In some areas of the United States, gas prices have remained stubbornly flat during the oil plunge, or have inexplicably risen. Fuel Freedom Policy Manager Gal Sitty has put together this informative graph that tracks the price of oil (an amalgam of Brent crude, the international benchmark, and West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. standard) compared with the average price of gasoline in three big states: California, New York and Ohio.
Experts have no shortage of explanations for these anomalies. They usually sound like this: Something-refineries-inaudible. Cue Charlie Brown’s teacher talking wah-wah speak.
It’s true that a unit at the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, one of the largest refineries in the Midwest, is back online after breaking down Aug. 8. Media outlets report that gas prices in the region already have begun falling again, but they’re sure not doing so as quickly as they shot up. And it doesn’t explain that gentle slope of a line for New York above.
In California, where gas prices pushed toward $5 in July after a sudden, insufficiently explained shortage, prices remain high, purportedly owing to the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance still being below capacity six months after a fire. As Sue Carpenter, automotive writer at the Orange County Register, explains:
Crude oil typically accounts for just 46 percent of the cost of a gallon of gasoline, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration. Taxes account for 16 percent, 13 percent is marketing and distribution, and 25 percent is refining.
In California, though, crude oil is just 34 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas, and refining is 35 percent, according to the California Energy Commission.
Still, it’s curious that just as California motorists were getting hammered, oil refineries weren’t sharing the pain: Refineries in the state collected $1.61 per gallon in July, the highest since the state began keeping records in 1999.
It’s clear that there isn’t enough refinery capacity in the U.S. (Raise your hand if you’d like one built in your back yard. There are people in Whiting who still remember what happened there 70 years and a day ago.) But even if refinery disruptions are partially to blame, it’s only further evidence that we’re too beholden to a volatile global oil market, and we’re dependent on an aging, infrastructure for refining.
The only way to make the fuel pricing structure sustainably affordable is to introduce fuel choice so gasoline has to compete with cheaper, cleaner alternatives like ethanol and methanol.
Until that happens, wild price swings and supply disruptions will be the norm in America.
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