Tuesday, May 18, 2004

On The Road Again: Giving Me Gas

I feel a rant coming on. Yep, it's definitely a rant.

So as the average price of gas in the country crests 2 bucks a gallon (and its about two bits higher here in the Puget Sound area), more people have been asking me about my hybrid Honda Insight. In particular, its gas mileage.

For the record, it gets between 45 and 50 MPG driving around the city, better on long trips. Though I'm not really taking a lot of long trips at the moment. While it burns less gas (and powers down at stop lights, which is disconcerting to first-time riders), it still uses gas, so I'm still at the pumps - though not as often as my friends with the big SUVs. I'm not one to taunt them - They can still crush my car like a bug, though they'll spend half the tank getting into position to do it.

What has impressed me to date is the big shrug that this latest price surge has gotten - its like everyone has said - "Yeah, gas prices have been too low. Poor oil companies. We should be more like France or Germany. I don't mind spending a bit more. And its only going to get worse, yaknow." I mean, the orbital mind-control lasers must be burning out fuses at this point.

Of course, the current administration (Motto - "New Questions, Same Damn Answers") has both been buying up a lot of oil (at these inflated prices, so I guess they're HOPING it will get worse - otherwise they've been spending your cash on very expensive oil) and pushing the idea of increased drilling in Alaska again.

You folk do realize that if the abundance of Alaskan Oil had ANY effect on our gas prices, then we'd have the cheapest gas in the country in the Pacific NW, this close to Alaska? Instead we're about 25 cents higher than the average (and don't even ask about our neighbors to the south). Most of the Alaskan crude is heading to Japan and our new best-buddy China (which is good for the balance of trade but not for you filling up your tank). Actually, one of the locals out here has been tracking the fact that the number of refineries on the West Coast have decreased in the past two decades, despite increased drilling up north. And its refinery limitations that kicked off the first of this steady rise, as a lot of local plants reduced productivity for "regular maintenance" while two more refineries suffered messy explosions (Let's assume that those were ones that did NOT have "regular maintenance"), and there was a big pipeline spill north of SF a few weeks back. Let's say the system is pretty stressed at this point.

There is one group that should be happy with the current turn of events - those with "No Blood for Oil" bumper stickers. Good news, guys - We spilled the blood, and we stilldon't get the oil. Woo Hoo! That shows us! And if you think pipeline safety is sucky in this country, its worse in places where people are actively trying to blow it up.

Of course our foreign policy hasn't helped us much. We should be able to lean on our buds in Saudi Arabia for a hand (that sharp-talking smoothie we had in charge four years back managed it, and the current guy has family business deals with the Royal Family, so he should be even better), but the Sauds are a little busy with their own unrest and may not be able to help. In our own hemisphere, we have Venezuela, where we tried to kick out the current government. Oh yeah, they're going to help out. We'd better hope there is oil under Haiti, or we're going to have to start being nice to the Russians. What we may see is "Wal-Mart Roll-back" where the prices go up so they can then come down just a notch for a "special sale" in late October. Thanks guys.

But the good news is that gas will stay cheaper than milk per gallon. That's mainly because the Department of Agriculture has allowed the prices to float upwards to about 50 cents more than last year. Most of the increase will go to the middle men as opposed to local farmers, which sort of is fitting in our Through The Looking Glass kind of policy.

Me? I use the Hybrid for long trips (more than 15 miles) and don't tick off people with SUVs too much - they tend to get surley these days. And I await the day of the vehicle that Ed Begley Jr drives in The Simpsons - powered by my own smug sense of self-satisfaction.

More later,