It’s a vicious, desperate cycle — our dependence on oil, that is. The aggravation begins when we go to the pump and get hit a little (or more recently, a lot) harder in the wallet when we fuel up. A basic commodity of life, especially for Californians, our frustration increases when we hear about oil companies reporting tens of billions of dollars in profits each and every quarter while many of us are prioritizing gas over groceries. Then, as if getting slapped in the face, further reports come out about how these companies — specifically Exxon Mobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Chevron — have been subsidized by the government with major tax breaks for many years, saving oil companies billions of dollars combined annually.
We, as consumers, are then caught in the middle of the heated debate between conservatives and liberals on Capitol Hill. Democrats say we must end tax loopholes, that higher taxes are the way to pay off our $14-plus trillion national debt. It is estimated that if oil company tax loopholes were closed, the government would bring in nearly $21 billion over 10 years. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service also found that ending those tax breaks is unlikely to cause an increase in gas prices. No one would say that oil companies are struggling — oil companies’ combined pre-tax profits could hit $200 billion this year.
Meanwhile, oil industry executives say we shouldn’t pick on the oil industry — other industries receive similar tax cuts, too. Their sentiment is to cut spending to balance the deficit, not increase taxes. After all, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry employs more than 9 million people, and increased taxes may lead to a reduction in the number of jobs or a slashing of pay, or so goes the theory. The Senate blocked the bill that would repeal about $2 billion a year in tax breaks on Tuesday.
Then President Obama announces last Saturday that he wants to increase domestic oil production by extending leases off Alaska’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, leases currently affected by the temporary drilling moratorium, but we wouldn’t see a significant increase in oil output until 2030. If that happens, according to a 2009 study from the government’s Energy Information Administration, in roughly 20 years, domestic oil production would increase by an estimated 500,000 barrels a day, though the world would then be consuming about 100 MILLION barrels a day. The savings at that time: 3 cents a gallon, as calculated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Various polls have shown that the president’s approval ratings have decreased over the last several months as gas prices go up — one would have to wonder if the president is focused on getting re-elected or actually has our best interests in mind since more domestic oil production won’t really do much to help.
The problem is us, as individual consumers. We are OK with powerful corporations, politicians and environmentalists bickering and fighting as long as we don’t have to change our habits. But in 2008, we did change our habits. When oil prices hit a record peak at $145 a barrel, we stopped driving as much, even setting a record for a decline in the number of miles driven in May 2008, and the oil industry felt it. Prices dropped to $30.28 a barrel and then oil was traded between $35 and $82 a barrel in 2009 — how soon we forget. Now gas prices are above $4 a gallon and we are doing nothing to change our habits; it’s no wonder everyone is just spinning their wheels in D.C.
Our complaints about gas prices are weak without action. In order to see changes at the pump, we must first get mad. We aren’t going to be taken advantage of any more. Then we must make changes to our driving habits — drive less, slow down, improve gas mileage. Follow up by contacting our local representatives in D.C. and demand MPG increases be mandated — cars with an average of 12 MPG should be a thing of the past; hybrid and electric cars should be in full production with more tax credit incentives; and efficient mass transit should be a priority. If we choose to do nothing more than complain, then gas at $5 a gallon should come as no surprise.