At the pump

May 25, 2012

Barely a year ago, President Barack Obama called for a one-third reduction in oil imports by 2025, saying the United States cannot continue to “propose action when the gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again.”

“We will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we finally get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy,” he explained.

The latest data show that the United States is, in fact, importing far less oil than in 2005 and that friendly countries, among them Canada and Colombia, are providing more of that imported oil.

And yet, gasoline prices are soaring. What gives?

Despite the mud-wrestling in Washington over who’s to blame for high prices at the pump, the reality is that there’s very little the United States can do to control them.

“It doesn’t matter from where the United States is importing its oil because it’s a global market, it’s a fungible commodity,” said RoseAnne Franco, a Houston-based energy analyst for Wood Mackenzie. “What drives prices are global factors – global supply and demand and geopolitics as well.”

So even though little oil is imported from Libya, the civil war there contributed to higher prices in the United States, Neelesh Nerurkar, an energy specialist at the Congressional Research Service, told Congress in a December hearing on energy security.

Producing more oil at home or increasingly relying on, say, Brazil as opposed to Iraq does confer real benefits – lessening the possibility of a disruption to supplies. But that’s because of logistics.

A major crisis affecting oil supplies anywhere – whether it’s an Iranian blockade of tanker traffic or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shutting off the spigot – would raise prices everywhere.

“As long as oil remains the only source of energy to participate in the transportation fuel market, those who control the lion’s share of production reserves will rule the day,” Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, told Congress.

Juan Forero

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