Op-Ed: Higher Gas Prices Have Drivers Over a Barrel – An Oil Barrel

Source: Atle Brunvoll/Flickr

BETWEEN THE LINES: Family vacations are in limbo. Sheepshead Bay fishing fleet earnings go up in smoke as boats burn up pricey fuel. Reluctant drivers don’t fill gas tanks as often as they did six months ago. These days ten bucks worth barely budges the gas gauge indicator.

Seems like déjà vu all over again — and once again, drivers are figuratively over a barrel — an oil barrel.

The opening sentence of a Daily News article reads: “Spiraling gas prices are squeezing New Yorkers’ wallets like never before — but the petroleum pain could get even worse.” That was SEVEN years ago!

Since the new year began, from California to New York, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters (with apologies to Woody Guthrie), Americans have coped with and are frustrated by record-high fuel prices that have topped $4 a gallon in some states and could possibly reach $5 by summer.

Here in Brooklyn, the price is higher than the national average when the highest taxes in the country — 67 cents a gallon — get tacked on. According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the average per gallon tax nationwide is about 50 cents.
Though the specific source for recent gas price increases cannot be pinpointed, there are a number of usual suspects that may contribute to the dilemma, the least likely being the president.

Rising fuel costs have become a hot button issue as the presidential campaign moves into second gear. Lately, Republican presidential candidates briefly sidestepped attacks on each other to predictably blame President Obama for rising gas prices. Though the president has little control over the matter, opponents underscore it in another groundless attempt to make him the patsy for whatever ails the nation.

Obama recently mocked Newt Gingrich’s recent pledge to roll back prices to $2.50 a gallon, if he was elected, noting: “(Republicans) start acting like they’ve got a magic wand and will give you cheap gas forever if you elect us.”

Regardless, Gingrich failed to suggest a plan to fulfill his promise.

Republicans regularly prod Obama to expand drilling off our shores where geologists repeatedly stress there are vast deposits of fossil fuels. But even if such activity began soon, the Department of Energy said it would not have an effect on nationwide prices for several years.

Actually, government statistics show that domestic oil production has increased by 13 percent since Obama took office, while oil imports have dropped from 60 to 45 percent of total consumption in the last seven years.

But Republicans, anxious for a new issue now that the economy seems to be slowly recovering, prefer to ignore facts from government industry or scientific sources.

According to the API, varying fuel costs in the last few years are related to accelerated demand in countries like India and China, as well as developing third world nations that consume more oil now than ever before. Anyone who’s taken Economics 101 knows the principle of supply and demand tends to dictate market prices.

Another factor that contributes to rising gas prices includes the mounting concern about future supply disruptions in Iran and elsewhere. But experts say that U.S. oil imports from the region have become marginal in the last decade. However, that threat still impacts global markets, which do affect the price.

Greedy, profit-minded oil companies often bear most of the blame. And logically so. Even in hard times, ExxonMobil, Texaco and other companies that produce and distribute oil products typically have a hefty profit at year’s end.

Regardless of the reasons, the public frustration lingers as consumers realize that whenever fuel prices spike, grocery and other consumer prices are sure to follow because of corresponding cost increases of transporting merchandise to local supermarkets.

But, no matter who’s at fault, almost everyone wants the government to do something, even if no one can offer a rational plan of exactly what should or can be done. A recent Gallup poll found 85 percent of adults want the president and Congress to take immediate actions to offset gas price surges.

Isn’t it funny how some Americans constantly complain about government interference, but look to it when times are tough?

Some families will likely cancel or cut back on vacations to save money while others may opt for staycations closer to home, hoping the final fuel tab won’t cut into their vacation budget.

One local gas station owner, who asked to remain unidentified, complained that when he recently posted a higher price, a few passing motorists honked, yelled and gave him the finger. He now waits until later in the day, when traffic is scarcer, to put up price changes. By the way, he said he plans to vote for Obama in November.

In fact, with Etch-A-Sketch coming out of the attic, getting dusted off and put back in the spotlight, thanks to recent juvenile tactics surfacing in presidential politics, gas station operators should erect new signs using the classic toy’s process to make it easier to post ever-changing prices this spring.

New York City cab drivers, who are greatly affected, have told reporters the high price of gas is prompting them to drive faster, even more recklessly, than usual to pick up more passengers during a shift. That’s a stupid excuse that jeopardizes the safety of passengers, pedestrians and the driver. Let’s hope cruising police patrol cars are more vigilant before someone gets hurt.

Tour operators in the city and across the nation indicate they will have to keep hiking rates for bus tours and boat rides whenever gas prices rise.

Remember the good ol’ days – in 2008 – when the average national price of gas fell nine cents to $1.66, which at the time was its lowest point in five years. Earlier that year, prices were at an all-time high of $4.11. That ceiling is expected to be broken as summer rolls around.

Before you get your motor running and head out on the highway, looking for adventure, leisure or whatever this spring and summer, check your gas gauge, ‘cause if you intend to fill up, remember that when it comes to oil companies the price of gas is always bound to be high.

Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.