Oily big oil:
That slick industry spins a new excuse for summer squeeze

Here we go again. It's summer. And we'll all be living through yet another season of price trauma at the gas pump.

What makes this seasonal spike so irritating is hearing the same old excuses from the oil industry, issued every summer over and over.

It's not just that old supply-and-demand song and dance. Big Oil is a more sophisticated spinner than that. It's always the murky matter of limited refinery capacity.

There are never enough refineries in operation at one time. Even with a reported $440 billion profit amassed by Big Oil over the last six years, new refineries aren't being built.

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, 123 refineries are spread out across 32 states, with Texas having 26 and New Mexico with four.

Of course, we do have a genuine oil shortage looming - some say two to five years off. But Big Oil and Big Auto aren't concerned with that. Conservation doesn't make them a penny.

And their PR geniuses keep cranking out the copy. Anticipating our curiosity about why gas prices went down so close to last year's election, in which Big Oil was invested heavily in a GOP victory in the House and Senate, we were told the Chinese were suddenly and inexplicably using less gasoline.

They never have to prove any of their spin. That sinking feeling of being scammed never abates.

We hear from the New York Times that Big Oil, with its huge mercenary armies and U.S. ground forces, apparently can't stop the flood of stolen petroleum from Iraq oil fields, to the tune of 200,000 or so barrels, or $15 million, a day.

Is it that hard to track down convoys of oil tankers slinking across the dunes or that impossible to detect a huge siphon sucking out oil? How do you steal 200,000 barrels of oil a day without being noticed?

Big Oil is unendingly sly. This year's price hike excuse is an ingenious variation on the old refinery-limitation theme.

This time, Big Oil blames states and environmental legislators and governors for coming up with a myriad of levels of clean gas-and-ethanol mixtures. It costs a lot of money to make different kinds of gases like that, Big Oil explains.

I'm sure it does. But didn't it cost a lot of money three months ago? Why the spike now in the summer vacation season?

If it costs so much, why not just make one kind of clean gas - the cleanest of the clean that meets all the states' requirements? That would eliminate their excuse, I guess.

What we have nowadays is a gas tax levied by the petroleum industry. The sheiks are living high, and we go on guzzling as if there really was an endless supply of oil in the ground.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
May 25, 2007