The media says things will ease up tomorrow. And theoildrum.com suggests it gets worse for the next 2–3 weeks. Frankly, this is worse than Katrina, at least from a supply standpoint — it’s like living in an early episode of FAR Future! If it gets any worse, and I mean any worse, the South will come to a standstill next week.
When a gas station gets a shipment in, people start calling around to tell their friends and relatives, everyone rushes in to fill up, and then they’re out again. We got a phone call this morning, and I took the Civic in to get half a tank (my last $20 of gas money). But except for the occasional fistfight, people seem to be taking it in stride. They’re blaming oil companies, politics (yeah right, like Bush-league would hose his party’s base in an election year), whatever, but otherwise they shrug and line up. I explain what’s really happening: oil production in the Gulf is still only 1/4 normal; refineries in Texas are restarting more slowly than anticipated (see link above); and this all went down at a time when inventories were well below normal to begin with.
I figure it’s highly unlikely to happen, but here’s a few lessons we could learn if we really wanted:
1) Seeing as a similar situation happened 3 years ago, this isn’t a once in a lifetime thing. Or even a once in two terms thing. In a world of tight oil supply, we need to understand this is going to happen again. And again.
2) Our leadership needs to, um, lead. Planetary Governor Bok-Bok could have done more than wag his finger at gouging (necessary, but not sufficient). What he should have done was told us, “Look, supplies might be tight for a few weeks and we’ll all have to work around it. I’m asking gas stations to place a $30 limit on purchases through the end of the month, and reduce that to $20 per purchase if necessary. I call on employers to let people work at home where possible. All citizens should avoid making unnecessary trips, and use carpools or transit when they can. If you have to drive, take the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can."
3) When you have to haul a work crew and gear around, using a big SUV is smart. For solo commuting on highways, the same vehicle is not so smart. Maybe the Magic Drill Fairy will put some oil under our pillow in 5 years or so, but if people insist on driving barges to work, it’s not going to make a difference. We need to discourage that behavior, by whatever means necessary: from huge surtaxes on huge vehicles not used for construction work, to just pointing and laughing. If it gets the gas hogs off the road, it works.
4) A good regional passenger rail system would be good for tourism, business, and citizens — and be fairly immune to gasoline supply glitches.
I don’t have a whole lot of faith that people will do the right thing, though, until they can’t do anything else.