FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Gas Gougers

Here we go again. A sudden surge in the price of gasoline and heating oil is followed by reported expressions of frustrated despair by hard-pressed consumers in the midst of silence from the oil companies and abdication of responsibility by the elected and appointed officials of federal and state governments.

The price of gasoline is up by about 50 cents in the past month, according to AAA, making the average gallon go for close to $4 per gallon in many parts of the country. Prices are even higher in California. AAA says that this “is the most expensive we’ve seen gasoline in the dead of winter.”

Every penny increase in the annual price of gasoline takes over $1.6 billion dollars from the pockets of American consumers (Source). That doesn’t even count the higher prices for heating oil homeowners are paying.

There was a time when even a few cents increase in the price of gasoline or natural gas would provoke Congressional investigations, actions by state Attorneys General, and condemnations of the producer countries, the OPEC cartel and Big Oil from presidents and the heads of antitrust divisions of the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission. That is, until smooth, smiling Ronald Reagan came to Washington, D.C. with his mantra that “government is not the solution; government is the problem.”

Well, now the multi-layered petroleum cartel has become institutionalized, having “gotten government off its back” and put the New York Mercantile Exchange speculators at the gaming tables.

There seems to be an adequate supply of crude oil in this recessionary global economy. What could be the cause of this latest price spike? The news media offer a spectrum of possible factors – restrictions on exports of Iranian oil imposed by western governments, instability in Syria and elsewhere in the volatile Middle East, oil hungry China, oil speculators on Wall Street and reduced refinery capacity in the U.S.

Each price surge in recent decades seems to have different principal causes. This time it seems to have been precipitated by surging prices of crude – easily manipulated – and in the U.S. the permanent or temporary shutdown for repairs, of too many refineries.

Believe it or not, the U.S. is now a net refined petroleum importer because of the continuing refusal by the industry to rebuild or expand refinery capacity on the very sites where many refineries have been shut down, often in favor of offshore, cheaper installations.

Whenever supply and demand for refined oil products is tight, all it takes is for one or two refineries to suspend operations, other than for repairs, and the prices surge all over the country.

This happened in January to a refinery in California, due to a fire, and most prominently the closure of a key refinery in Port Reading, New Jersey, owned by the Hess company. Five dollars a gallon gas “is a real possibility,” John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital, told Yahoo! Finance, adding “this is partly being driven by the lost refinery capacity of about one million barrels per day…that’s a lot.” (The U.S. consumes about 19 million barrels a day of refined petroleum products.)

So what can our so-called representatives in Washington do about a gouge that has angered almost all conservative and liberal consumers? Well, the Democratically-controlled Senate can start by holding investigatory hearings. The President can speak out more forcefully and indicate he may release some of the government’s crude oil reserves to increase supply.

He can order his Justice Department to at the very least subpoena pertinent oil industry information for starters.

Mr. Obama can forcefully back up Gary Gensler, his appointed, savvy Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who has been trying to rein in excessive speculation that drives up prices and punishes the motoring public.

In 2011 CFTC data showed that massive inflows of speculative money drove up prices. At that time, even Goldman Sachs analyst, David Greely, claimed Wall Street speculation in the futures market was driving up oil prices. Earlier, Rex Tillerson, the head of ExxonMobil, estimated that speculation was responsible for a more than $40 per barrel price increase when oil was just over $100 per barrel. Over the last month crude oil has ranged in price from $93-$120 per barrel.

Admiral Hyman Rickover who, more than 40 years ago, wisely said that there should always be government-owned shipyards to provide a yardstick by which to restrain the high prices and cost overruns being charged by private ship buildings manufacturing the Navy’s ships. That means, in this oil price context, that the government should own and operate some refineries for the armed forces. Any excess capacity could loosen the market with gasoline and heating oil when the corporate interests maneuver tight supplies for which they get immediately rewarded with cold cash.

Were Obama to direct some of his bully pulpit heat on those members of Congress who are marinated in oil, he might find more support from Capitol Hill for all these initiatives.

So call the switchboard at the White House comment line (202-456-1111) and tell the president that you are fed up and determined to drive less, carpool and walk more where possible, but that he, the president, must be more aggressive in taking on the staggeringly profitable and tax-favored big oil companies.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

 

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

June 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Divest From the Business of Incarceration
W. T. Whitney
Angola in Louisiana: Proving Ground for Racialized Capitalism
Susan Babbitt
Assange and Truth: the Deeper (Harder) Issue
Kenn Orphan
Humanity vs. the Rule of Law
Mateo Pimentel
Why on Earth a Country of Laws and Borders?
Michael T. Klare
The Pentagon’s Provocative Encirclement of China
Howard Lisnoff
The Outrageous Level of Intolerance is Happening Everywhere!
Vijay Prashad
The People of India Stand With Palestine
RS Ahthion
Internment Camps for Child Migrants
Binoy Kampmark
Rocking the G7: Trump Stomps His Allies
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Lawrence Wittner
Getting Ready for Nuclear War
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Women Protest After Being Told by Turkish-Backed Militias to Wear the Hijab
Dean Baker
When Both Men and Women Drop Out of the Labor Force, Why Do Economists Only Ask About Men?
Bruce Lerro
Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down the Iron Curtain on Yankeedom
June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail