The big oil companies are sticking it to us at the pumps once more. Not satisfied with the obscene price of three bucks a gallon they are pushing to make four dollars the new norm. We may be seeing our future in California where it has topped five in some places.
As always when the price of gasoline shoots up we begin to hear grumblings about the president. It should have become crystal clear in the last election that President Obama has no control over oil prices. With the election only a few months away the polls were showing him in a dead heat with Mr. Romney and the president was appearing more and more nervous. If it had been in his power to drop fuel a dollar a gallon he would most assuredly have done so, for as everyone knows we the common people are much more worried about keeping our cash than any lofty political ideals. Had the price of fuel dropped, his re-election would have been guaranteed but we went into November with the same disgusting prices.
Once when President George W. Bush was asked at a press conference what he intended to do about the gas prices his response was the correct one. He told his questioner that it was not within his power and reminded him that ours is a free trade economy based on supply and demand. If someone produces a product you deem to be too expensive, then don't buy it. While that works well with most consumer goods it does not take into consideration the collusion of the American oil producing companies. That group obviously gets together to illegally fix prices across the country.
There is no such thing as a small oil company operating independently to set their own prices anymore. Last fall when I visited my hometown in Southwest Louisiana, I was reminded just how strong big oil is in that region. When most of us think about Cajun country we think about gumbo and alligators but in truth that economy has been driven by the production of crude oil for as long as I can remember.
Cracking plants and refineries dot the area. As a kid hunting in the Great Atchafalaya Swamp I never had to fear getting lost. No matter how deeply I ventured into the bayou I could always find my way out by following the sounds of a pumping oil well. Still, when I arrived there I found the gas pump prices to be only a few cents lower that we have right here in Volusia County.
No, there is no capitalist free trade in the oil business. It is a monopoly that works closely with foreign oil to keep the prices up. The resulting profits have been staggering.
I remember as a young man driving through the Ozark Mountains of Missouri when I came upon two country gas stations sitting right across the road from each other. One had a big sign with the price of eleven and nine tenths and the other was twelve nine. Back then the average price of regular was around thirty cents a gallon, so I stopped in. When a young man came out to pump the gas I asked him what was going on. Fighting brothers was all he offered. Family conflict aside, those two brothers were engaging in basic capitalism. Both were probably selling their gas for less than cost and were past the point where profit was an issue.
Recently the Kiplinger Report stated that as a nation we are sitting on enough oil to see us through the next 300 years without any imports from OPEC. I can't imagine we will still be relying on fossil fuels 300 years from now. Obviously our current plan is to use up all of the foreign oil before we suck up most of our own, but 300 years?
One thing is for sure, we Americans are resilient. Throughout our history we have overcome many seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We will come up with a substitute for oil, but our researchers won't get serious until we are on the brink of running out. It is also clear that until a trustbuster comes along we will be victimized by big oil. In the meantime all we as individuals can do is try and use less. Lack of sales is about the only thing the oil companies will understand.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." Email questions and comments to email@example.com or call (386) 441-7793.