Friday, April 8, 2011

We have to import all that oil we use, so what did you expect?

Yesterday, while I was buried with other projects, I noticed that Obama's remarks about gasoline prices had some bloggers up in arms. Whatever else I might think about Obama, his is right that there is very little that the White House can do to reduce gasoline prices short term. I'd go a bit further and suggest that the White House really doesn't have that much pull in the medium to long term either, as long as the US continues to consume oil products in ridiculous quantities. As long as we have to import our primary sources for fuel, we will be paying whatever prices our importers wish to charge. If the more pessimistic of the peak oil folks are correct, even our importers may not have much influence on pricing. The bottom line is that we're going to have to get used to $3.50-$4.00 per gallon gasoline for the foreseeable future. The White House can suggest investing in public transport and improving our railways - which would seem reasonable enough - but those suggestions will likely go nowhere with the current Congressional makeup. As long as we have enough politicians who find it more beneficial to cozy up to Big Oil than to work towards a functioning post-oil infrastructure, we should expect to be saddled with an increasingly dysfunctional status quo.

So what to do in the short term? We don't have an infrastructure in place for adequate public transportation in most parts of the US. Some major northeastern and midwestern metropolitan areas may be exceptional - for the rest of us, we live with an infrastructure that was built on the assumption that we could keep on enjoying happy motoring forever. About the only things we can do are to look for ways to cut back on fuel consumption. That means cutting out unnecessary trips, driving more moderately (if you pretend the roadways are NASCAR tracks, you'll burn up much more gas than if you observe speed limits), and purchase vehicles that have excellent fuel economy. Our household is in the process of replacing our two vehicles. We just replaced our old minivan, which at the ripe old age of 13, was ready to go. There's not much that can be done about fuel economy for most minivans other than to looks for something that gets as close to 15-20 MPG city as possible. That's not quite gas guzzler territory, but it's not great either. But, as long as we have dependent children, we'll be using something along those lines for now. I'm pretty happy under the circumstances with our new van. It'll do its job, and if we drive conservatively, we should be able to avoid too many trips to the pump.The other vehicle is a subcompact. It's going to be 14 years old soon. Right now I get about 30 MPG with it, and it has served me much better than I could have hoped. My plan is to replace it sometime in the next year, finances permitting. Since I only use it for commutes to work and local errands, and don't have to worry about regularly transporting kids with my current ride, I have the luxury of seeking out a vehicle considerably smaller than my current subcompact. My goal is to find something that gets 40-50 MPG, which should be doable.  Hybrids look really good to me right now.

Personally, I'd prefer to see the prices of gasoline go down, but the reality is that I have little control over that. Simply getting outraged and hanging onto the delusion that cheap gasoline is somehow our birthright will not suffice.