Vaught keeps an eye on the High Point Truckstop across the street. The High Point raised its price for unleaded regular to $3.75 early Monday afternoon. Vaught held at $3.69 for a few hours and then cranked it up to $3.75. “I can’t stay down long,” he says. Even a difference of six cents could create a stampede on his business and drain his 10,000-gallon tank dry.
Every time gas prices soar, Americans get a reminder of how dependent we are on oil, how vulnerable to soaring prices and how hard it has been to change our ways. Motorists are angry and a little mystified. Gas prices seem to go up when no one’s looking, and for no obvious reason. A gallon of regular unleaded cost $3.82 on average nationwide Thursday, up 31 cents in the past month, according to AAA’s price survey. A gallon of diesel was going for $4.12.
At the filling stations, drivers feel powerless.
“You don’t have a choice. Someone’s got a gun to your head,” said Jack Zdziera, 65, a West Virginian who drove into Virginia to get the lower-priced gas at the Flying J truck stop north of Winchester.
Like the ’70s in some ways
It has been 39 years since the first of the 1970s oil shocks. The fuel efficiency is much better now. Americans get far more productivity per barrel of oil. There are a couple of million hybrids on the road and a smattering of electric cars. And yet in many ways, it still looks like the 1970s out there. The transportation sector of the economy remains almost entirely beholden to petroleum, much of it imported from unfriendly countries.
This technological conundrum has long-term solutions, potentially, and short-term political implications. Higher gas prices function like an instant tax hike, as visible as the spinning numbers on the Pure station’s old-fashioned pumps.
President Obama may have limited control over gas prices, which are highly sensitive to the fluctuations in the global price of oil, but the Republicans see an opportunity here. They blame Obama for not approving construction of the Keystone pipeline, which would bring Canadian crude to Gulf Coast refineries. Newt Gingrich made the promise of $2.50-per-gallon gas part of his stump speech. Polls show Obama’s approval ratings moving in the opposite direction of gas prices.
“Fire the president!” suggested Glenn Wolfe, 88, who was putting $100 worth of gas into his 38-foot motor home at the Flying J. It gets eight miles to the gallon, he said.
Tim Vaught at the Pure station blames Wall Street. “What really hurts the gas prices is the stock market,” he says. “Speculators.”