Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Urban Legends site has an informative lead in to the question of where we really get our oil from in this country. A series of ads claims that the extra gas required to power unneccessarily weighty SUVs puts money right into the pockets of the people who have contributed most to our middle eastern problems. How true is this?

You should probably poke through the data on the links within the Urban Legends page to decide for yourself. A search for the string “Iraq” on this page published by the US Department of Energy seeems to indicate Chevron (of all the providers with stations here in Austin) purchases the most Iraqi oil. Shell, new owners of the gas stations (formerly Texacos) I use doesn’t appear to get any of their crude from the middle east. They do get some stuff called “MTBE” from Saudi Arabia, though.

Anyway, the end of the Urban Legends article mentions how this data might be misleading — that gas stations don’t always get their feul from the company printed on the marquee and that increasing the demand on one company’s supply would just force them to buy more oil from the middle east.

But. A barrel of oil does cost about $30, and $30 times the about 11,000,000 barrels imported to the US alone from Iraq in the one month of November 2002 equals about $330,000,000. That’s $330 million. In one month. From one (albeit one very consumptive) country. And I suspect that the amount we import was lower in November 2002 than in previous months and years. The UL article claims Japan purchases about as much oil from the region as the US. So, let’s say that’s another $270,000,000 (for nice round figures) in November. Making $600 million in purchases in that month or, let’s say, $600m times 12 months equals $7,200,000,000 ($7.2b).

This report seems to say that our Nov 2002 imports were about 1/3 of what we brought in from Iraq during the month when we brought in the most from them: September 2001. (I’m finding some of this data through the DOE’s Monthly Energy Review site.

Anyway. To say that all of this money went straight into Saddam’s pocket for building weapons of mass destruction would obviously be wrong. I don’t know what part of that money goes into the Iraqi coffers and what part goes into the bank accounts of the various companies who drill for and ship the oil around the world. And what does end up in the hands of the Iraqi government might end up draining out for whatever meager social services and infrastructure Iraq offers its citizens. But, no doubt, a sizable wad ends up going to projects that our government would say go directly against our interests.

The issues are very complex, but attaching dollar amounts to the different points makes them seem more tangible. The final moral would be, I guess, to continue understanding that the most powerful vote you have in the affairs of this planet comes from the inside of your wallet, not at the voting booth. It’s difficult to know exactly to whom your money goes, but it seems socially responsible to at least try to figure it out.

And reducing the amount of driving you do overall is probably a good idea. Not that I am completely opposed to gas-powered vehicles — or even SUVs, for that matter. But each tool has its place. A family of six needs a large vehicle to get around in. Jimmy Fratboy probably doesn’t, even if his family can afford buying one for him.