Issue September 19, 2006

Culture Maven: Gas fluctuation fuels political flatulence

OK, yeah, I got a theory, and mentioned it last time in the rant in this space.
To wit: The drop in gasoline prices the last month is a Big Oil conspiracy.
Their Purpose: To swing the upcoming elections in the direction of the Bush/Cheney (Enron/Halliburton) Republicans.

Their Underlying Premise: The citizenry is tired of being gouged at the pump because of policies exalted by GOPers and inclined to throw the Republicans out. So let’s deceive the public into thinking prices will continue to drop and all is well, and then the gullible voters will rethink their intention to vote for donkeys.
Frankly, I’m inclined to such paranoia. A guy at a bluegrass festival back in the halcyon days of Tricky Dick’s downfall was selling Nixon campaign buttons that read “Nixon’s The One.” His theory: No matter what grand convoluted conspiracy one might imagine regarding the government’s actions, what it’s actually doing is 10 times worse.

So, to be frank, my fears about the specific gas price situation are underscored by a general belief that most everything our government does is meant to aid the powerful who helped it get elected, and vice versa, the rest of the public be damned.
Which is not to say that I haven’t attempted some actual research into the matter, hoping to be convinced otherwise.

There’s an organization called the Energy Information Administration. It’s a federal agency, purportedly independent, that tracks energy stats.
Its Web site states that the following are the components of the retail price of gasoline: “The cost to produce and deliver gasoline to consumers includes the cost of crude oil to refiners, refinery processing costs, marketing and distribution costs, and finally the retail station costs and taxes. The prices paid by consumers at the pump reflect those costs, as well as the profits (and sometimes losses) of refiners, marketers, distributors, and retail station owners.”
All of which is well and good in a textbook kind of way.

But it doesn’t really explain how one day gas is hovering above $3 a gallon, and a week later it’s 50 cents cheaper, even though pipelines in Alaska are broken and there’s warfare raging in the oil rich Middle East.
So I tracked down an oil jobber to explain it to me.

Harper Oil Products Inc. in northern Kentucky distributes petrol to the Chevron stations in Louisville. When I called to talk with Steve Harper, they advised he was “out of town.” When asked if there was anybody else there who might chat with me, the receptionist mentioned a fellow named Larry. Then, after checking with Larry, she advised he was “unavailable at this time.” And “he doesn’t normally talk about those matters.”

I’m also advised a Harper representative recently scurried to his car, then away, without comment when approached by a television reporter doing interviews at a local gas station.
I also checked in with the fellows at Cecil’s Chevron downtown across from the bus station. It’s one of only 20 or so independent Chevron stations in town, according to Bob Arnold. “There were about 60 when we moved to this location in ’75,” he said.

Asked what he thought were the reasons behind the sudden drop in gas prices, Arnold replied, “Deep in my heart I believe it’s politics.”

Asked how low he thought the price might go, Arnold said, “Tell you the truth, I never thought it would go this low.”

Arnold and his brother-in-law Johnny Cecil run the station. They explained how their wholesale cost is only one factor in the price they charge for gas. “Johnny drives in the morning from where he lives and I drive in from my place. We see what the other stations are charging.”

When asked if they lost money on gas after the recent price plummet, Arnold admitted, “We were breaking even at best. That’s before overhead.”

Arnold also provided a general explanation about how governmental units under federal mandate are supposed to use 10 percent alternative fuels, like ethanol, to help the environment. But “they don’t enforce that.”
Have I learned anything new? Not really.

I just keep hearing the lyrics to a Kevin Welch tune: The broadcasters bought off the FCC/Big oil’s got the EPA/Halliburton Halliburton Halliburton Halliburton/What else do you have to say/Little fish are eaten by the big fish/Swallowed up head and tail/Then the big fish are eaten by the bigger fish/Till we’re all in the belly of the whale.

Contact the writer at
cdk@culturemaven.com