This time, Oil Conglomerates and Petroleum Rich Nations, I’ve got your number. You know, the big two-foot tall ones in front of gas stations. You’ve tried to sneak up nasty price hikes on us before, literally by nickeling and diming. Well, I’m here to warn you, I’ve got you figured out. Yessiree. I am no longer going to be Mr. Nice Self-Serve Customer.
How did I come to this conclusion? Well, fellows, put down your sacks of high-denomination money and let me tell you.
A few days into the New Year, my goddaughter gave birth to a healthy son (mother and child are doing just fine today, thank you). The family thought it would be cyber-cool to put together a digital snapshot of the day he was born so that someday he might look at what life was like then without having to buy one of those “Year You Were Born” birthday cards available at finer boutiques and carwash gift shops.
This of course was to include the prices of things. My assignment was to get a copy of the newspaper for later photographing and PDF making (OK, for me that was pretty easy). Oh, yes, and I had to take a photograph of a gas station’s price sign. What better way to tell of life in 2013 than that? As it turned out, that afternoon here in the East Valley gas was selling at a major chain’s station for $2.99 a gallon.
Six weeks later, it’s more than $3.50. So, what happened?
I always enjoy (the kind of enjoyment you get from grinding your teeth or tossing food at the television during a close game) the explanations given to the media by the experts. They include one or more of the following:
1. Spring fuel blend changeover. This seems to affect prices starting in January.
2. Summer “driving season.” (For some reason, they seem to always calculate the additional gas it takes when you take two weeks off to drive to some vacation destination, but they never seem to subtract the gas you don’t use for 10 weekdays’ worth of commuting and two or three weekends’ worth of errands had you stayed home.)
3. Fall fuel blend changeover. This seems to affect prices starting in July.
4. Winter refinery maintenance. Close just one refinery down for a tire rotation and you’re assured of a 50-cent-per-gallon price hike.
5. Any number of political or meteorological reasons, such as “tensions in Iran” (which, as we all know very well, only happens once in the greatest of whiles) or “unrest in Egypt-Libya-Syria-wherever” (ditto) and the passing of a hurricane approximately 500 miles from a given oil rig platform anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Uncertainty among oil investors (for as everyone knows, the likelihood of investing in oil today and making any money at all is virtually nil).
Now, as a relatively reasonable man (I draw the line at tolerating reality television and a large number of members of the Arizona Legislature) I have looked seriously at my typical weekly demand. Most weeks I use nine gallons of gas. Sometimes it’s 10, sometimes it’s eight.
We all turn 18, or 21, or 35, or, um, 70 saying that my life is going to be different than everybody else’s, but, well, you know the rest. A few more visits and errands here, a few less there, because let’s face it, most of lead rather routine lives.
I myself lead a life of quiet and virtually unchanging petroleum demands. And if it’s true most of you do as well, then where is all this demand fluctuation the oil analysts keep talking about?
By now you know where this is leading. What’s really going on is one big oil baron’s sack of money feels a bit lighter than he thinks the one belonging to another one does. And the order goes out. And, faster than you can say “premium unleaded,” a 2 changes to a 3. At least I think that’s how it works.
Is there a bright side to all this? Well, just as people jump higher if a (figuratively speaking) fire is built underneath them, then so long as there are only so few refineries that when just one of them gets a wash and set the entire energy market quivers, so long as one Gulf oil rig is endangered by a storm, or one family decides not to stop at Yosemite but to drive all the way to Yellowstone instead, maybe that’s the impetus for us to finally get off the (oil) can.
Next up: By 2030, the electric utilities will be saying that the grid just can’t handle all the cars plugging into it just before Memorial Day weekend.
Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.