Why Are Gas Prices Rising?
April 27, 2012
What is an RV’er to do?
With fuel prices surpassing the $4.00 a gallon mark, to say that there is “pain at the pump” is an understatement.
Dropping 200 gallons of Road Diesel into the tanks on the Volvo while in Florida required handing the girl at the fuel desk $831.00. I couldn’t help but think of a time when diesel was considered “junk fuel” and was typically priced well below gasoline. While I could have completely filled both 150-gallon tanks on the Volvo in my younger days for less than $100, I know those days now exist only in memories held by our over 50 generation.
The soaring cost of fuel (gasoline and diesel) has hit the RV travel market hard. With typical fuel mileage figures for towing a 8,000# trailer behind a gas engine 1/2 ton pick-up ranging from 7 to 12 mpg – even short trips can rack up a significant bill. For example, a 200 mile round trip will consume $80 of fuel, up $20 from last year. The Paradox is that by some estimates the sales of RV towables has risen as much as 30% over the previous year. Economic analysts suggest that families are making shorter trips to camping destinations and staying longer. Some are abandoning brick and mortar homes in favor of towable/mobile homes.
Still, the pain at the pump persists – and it is doubtful that it will get better. As the consumer at the bottom of the “food chain” we must pay for rising oil prices in many ways other than gasoline. Food, transportation, home heating and cooling, tires, clothing, roofing, fertilizer, plastics, and even the cost of a stamp rise with any increase in the price of a barrel of oil.
Why is fuel getting more and more expensive when the media reports that we are now exporting more gas and diesel than we are importing?
Why is oil increasing in cost if we are producing more here in the US than we have in recent history?
Generally, we blame the oil companies first – and why not? They are recording record profits. After the oil companies we pass the blame on to the speculators that buy oil futures hoping to make a profit and finally we turn to issues pertaining to government and political decisions. Any unrest or uncertainty surrounding oil producing nations brings panic to oil importing governments. Yes, they all have an impact on the price of oil – but not as much of an impact as one might think. It has been said that if we did away with the capitalist’s right for companies and individuals to make a profit off of the sale of oil and adopted a socialist’s stance where oil was a government controlled commodity we would be paying at least $2.00 more for a gallon of gasoline. Competition, even in this tight market, helps to keep the price of fuel lower in the United States than any other country where the government does not subsidize the cost of fuel.
What about refineries?
We have spent the past 35 years gradually expanding the capacity of our current count of 149 refineries. Finally, two new refineries are now being constructed – one in Arizona and another in North Dakota. During the past 35 years, energy usage has more than doubled in the US. Refineries have a limit on how much gasoline and diesel they can produce depending upon their equipment and size. They are all currently at their limit and if one or more shut down we all get busted in the pocketbook.
So, why not just build a dozen new refineries?
The “not in my backyard” syndrome kicks in. The EPA and environmental groups begin to rumble and get louder and louder. It is now estimated that it would take ten years to bring yet another new refinery on-line, even if we started today. Let’s face it, refineries don’t make good neighbors, we all want them somewhere else. Another blockade is “Big Oil” itself. With Exxon/Mobile, BP, Shell and Valero owning the lion’s share of refineries competition is believed to be stifled. We also have some foreign owned refineries on US soil. Venezuela owns three CITGO refineries and ships much of the refined gasoline and diesel back to Venezuela where it is sold at a ridiculously low government subsidized price. The rest goes to CITGO stations around the US.
Why doesn’t the US drill more oil wells and pump more oil?
Oil itself doesn’t shoot from wells drilled in the ground as it did back in the days of Dallas. Most all of those easily accessible pools of oil are gone. We now are extracting oil from shale deposits. This requires vertical then horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – an expensive process that can impose new environmental dangers. Oil sands are being tapped but leave behind open pits reminiscent of strip mining coal. Off coast drilling for oil has creeped into deeper and deeper waters – again a more costly method of gathering oil.
The oil is there, but the cost of getting it from the source to us has increased dramatically – and will continue to do so.
Being part of a world economy where countries like China and India are buying every available barrel of oil doesn’t help us at the pump either. It is the old story of “supply and demand” that drives up the cost of a product,
So, what are we as RV’ers to do if we want to keep our lifestyle and tow our heavy fuel guzzling rigs down the road?
Possibly the most realistic choice is to do what a fellow camper recently told me: “Just suck it up – life is short and staying home in an apartment listening to the neighbors scream isn’t worth the extra $20 spent in fuel”.
Smaller, more fuel efficient RV’s can also ease the pain at the pump. Every RV manufacturer at the recent RV Show in Richmond had a “lightweight” model on display.
Better driving habits can also help to reduce fuel consumption and as a result, the total cost of filling up. Towable RV’s simply cannot achieve the same mileage at 65 to 70 mph as they do at 55 to 60 mph. Move to the right lane and slow down – save some fuel in the process.
Reducing weight by removing unneeded gear in the RV and tow vehicle can also have an impact on fuel economy. It is amazing what I cleaned out of our rig recently – stuff I have never used that I added just because we had room for it.
Inflate your tires to the maximum allowable pressures to reduce rolling resistance.
Back off on your take-off speed from a stop sign or red light. Sure, someone behind you may not like your lazy take off – but that is his problem, not yours.
Do anything you can to make your rig more aerodynamic. Those wings attached to the top of a pick-up really do work to reduce wind drag. I know because I have used them and observed the difference first hand.
Sadly, fuel is not going to get any cheaper. The expectation is for it to continue to become more expensive. This, of course, translates to more costly RV trips and travel. Quitting is not the answer – losing the experience of RV travel and exploring this great country would be sad. Life is short; time with the children and grandchildren in an environment conducive to talking, sharing, and discovery is priceless.
Somehow, we will keep on filling those huge tanks on the Volvo and keep the big wheels rolling. The value of our RV experiences cannot be counted by the price of fuel.