The enormous shift of dollars to pay for oil as the price shoots upward is something everyone knows about. It has made the United States poorer and oil producers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates immensely richer.
But until recently, few have paid much attention to a similar dollar shift that is about to take place within the United States as fuel prices are decontrolled and begin to increase rapidly.
The energy-producing states are going to get richer, much richer; the energy-deficit states, particularly in the already declining Northeast and Midwest, are going to get poorer.
The energy-rich states will have more money for all types of economic development investments. The others will have less, further hampering their ability to compete with the South and West.
The Treasury estimates that, over the next decade, decontrol will enable oil-producing states to collect an additional $128 billion in severance taxes on oil produced within them and in royalties from oil on state-owned lands.
Nearly all this extra tax money will enrich the coffers of four big oil-producing states -- Alaska ($37.3 billion), Texas ($33.2 billion), California ($21.8 billion) and Louisiana ($13.8 billion), four others, Oklahoma, Wyoming, New Mexico and Kansas, will split $9 billion.
Since most of these taxes presumably will be passed on by the oil companies to customers everywhere, this means that governments in a handful of oil-producing states will be getting richer at the expense of consumers all over the country.
The same will be true for added revenues from taxes on coal and natural gas.
"The governor's office of the State of New Jersey, in a recent study, calculated that New Jersey consumers will pay $105 million over the next five years in passed-on natural gas severance taxes to Louisiana and Texas," said Tom Cochran, executive director of the Northeast-Midwest Institute.
Montana, the nation's coal giant, has already raised its coal serverance tax 30 percent.
These huge added tax revenues aren't the only way fuel-rich states will benefit from oil decontrol and increasing energy prices at the expense of fuel-poor states.
Added sales revenues to producers and energy companies will bring billions of dollars of additional profits into the hands of private firms in the energy-rich states.
A study by Chase Econometrics -- treating each state as if it were a separate energy-producing or energy-consuming country -- estimated that Louisiana posted a $10.1 billion "surplus' in energy dealing with other states by oil, gas and coal producers in 1976. Texas had a $9.6 billion surplus. Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kentucky, Wyoming and West Virginia had surpluses ranging from $1 billion to $2 billion.
On the other hand, New York had a deficit of $6 billion, Illinois $3.5 billion, Ohio $3.5 billion, Michigan $3.1 billion, Pennsylvania $2.9 billion, New Jersey $2.7 billion and Massachuesetts $2.5 billion.
With decontrol of oil prices and rising demand, many of these figures could double or triple in real dollar terms over the next decade, one economist estimated.
What this means is billions of added dollars flowing from the old Northeast and Midwest states into the hands of producers and energy companies in the big fuel states of the West and Sunbelt.
Of course, not all this money will be spent in these regions, as big companies like Exxon and Texaco pay out part of it in dividends to stockholders all over the country.
But there is little doubt that some of this added surplus of trade will stay in the producing states, enhancing investment and business development and enabling them to develop faster than the faltering Frost Belt areas.
The prospect of money shifting from the hard-pressed Northeast and Midwest to big fuel-producing states like Texas, Louisiana, California, Alaska and Montana has already generated some regional warfare in Congress and will produce more.
An effort to make state royalties from oil produced on state-owned lands subject to the profits tax failed. Now, said Cochran, legislators from the Northeast and Midwest fear that the huge added oil-tax revenues will give the producing states a windfall in federal grants.
Some grants, such as revenue sharing, give a state or locality extra money if it makes a big "tax effort" on its own. The added "windfall severance taxes will so greatly boost their "tax effort" numbers that these states, while doing nothing, will get a bigger share of the federal grant pie.
Cochran said some legislators want to redesign the formulas to avert this development, or to "cap" allowable serverance taxes by federal law.
"After all, we have a few states that are so energy-rich that with decontrol they are becoming superstates," he said. "This group of states can be called the United American Emirates."