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Iran Oil Threats, Yet Another Reason to Resolve to Cut Our Oil Use

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I’m off by a week, but…Happy New Year! I hope everyone resolved to buy a higher fuel economy or electric car or to find alternatives to driving all the time, because it looks like it could be yet another year of oil and gasoline price spikes, thanks yet again to Middle East security issues. 

Iran/U.S. Tensions Driving Up Oil Prices

Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz helped drive up oil prices due to its role as the key Middle Eastern oil shipping lane.

Last year, it was the Arab Spring, especially the shutdown of oil supplies from Libya, that helped cause oil and gasoline price spikes. This year it could be Iran, which recently threatened to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the key waterway for shipping oil out of the Persian Gulf. They backed off that threat but have since taken a variety of other aggressive steps, including warning a U.S. aircraft carrier to stay out of the Persian Gulf.

Whether you follow Middle East issues or not, you should care about this news because it is at least part of the reason oil prices are back over $100 per barrel yet again.

Some Wall Street traders are already betting that oil prices could soon rise to between $110 and $130 per barrel due to tensions between Iran and the U.S. and possible strikes in Nigeria, another major oil exporter. At that level, the U.S. will again be sending more than $1 billion every day to other countries to pay for petroleum imports.

The last time oil prices hit that range, in spring 2011 and spring/summer 2008, we were paying $4 per gallon for gasoline.

Instability in the Middle East Has Driven World Oil Markets for Decades

Sadly, this is more of the same that we’ve seen for the last 40 years. As this New York Times graphic illustrates, most of the oil price spikes we’ve experienced since the early 1970s have been tied to wars, instability, and tension in the greater Middle East. This region produces about 40 percent of the crude oil that fuels economies around the world every day. As a result, any supply disruption, or even a hint thereof, can set oil markets on edge.

This is a problem that will only get worse over time because countries in the greater Middle East control over 60 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. So, as other countries start to run out, it will get easier and easier for countries like Iran to disrupt the world oil market. Consumers, and the U.S. economy as a whole, will continue to be harmed by oil price spikes until we dramatically cut our oil dependence.

Help Curb our Addiction

Now, the question is: what are you going to do with this latest reminder of the depth of our dependence on oil? We’ve got a plan to cut projected U.S. oil dependence in half by 2030. You’ll be hearing more about it in the coming months, but for now, you can put a plan of your own into action. Here are a few suggestions:

We won’t end our addiction to oil overnight, but the latest turmoil in the Middle East should serve as a stern reminder that we’ve got to start weaning ourselves now.

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photo credit: eutrophication&hypoxia, edited by UCS to add labels.

Posted in: Fossil Fuels, Vehicles Tags: , ,

About the author: David Friedman is an engineer with expertise on fuel efficiency, alternative fuel, battery, fuel cell, and hybrid electric vehicle technologies and the policies needed to turn them into real solutions for U.S. oil dependence, air pollution and global warming. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and is a Ph.D. candidate in transportation technology and policy. Subscribe to David's posts

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  • http://comcast.net Christopher Warren

    The oftentimes issue ignored when discussing the supply system of Petrochemicals is that all of our efforts in the last 100 years (or so) have been designed to protect the INCOMES of the OIL TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATIONS.
    The welfare of any Nation, particularly the US, has never been the driving force of legitimacy for any political or Military action in the Middle East while the true Corporate benefactors have evaded paying for the beneficial protection as well as the undistributed costs these monopolies have shifted to most of the Worlds Populations.

    So it would probably be radical to just ignore the Straits of Hormuz but the reality might just force Governments to finally address the enormity of our primary disappearing Fossil Energy Sources and would save us money by not miltarily expending funds and lives to save oil company profits but as a small consideration, might save our PLANET!

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/news/experts/david-friedman.html David Friedman

      Christopher. Thanks for your comments. I understand your frustration as U.S. presidents have been talking about doing something about the problem of our oil dependence since as far back as Presidents Nixon and Eisenhower. It is far past time we move beyond talking and towards action.

      However, I don’t think we should, or need to, let things get to a crisis point before we do anything. We’re already fighting to get out of bad economic times and more oil price spikes would only make things worse for those who can least afford it. Let’s get out ahead of future problems in oil producing countries instead. That is what our oil savings plan is all about.

  • jstack6

    My 100% Electric LEAF is 4 times more efficient and goes 50 miles on $1 of electric. I only charge Off Peak when there is excess and send our utiltiy clean renewable solar all day.
    High gas prices are the only way to move most American to action. Let’s stop the subsidies to OIL, stop the $1 Billion a day we import now.

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/news/experts/david-friedman.html David Friedman

      Thanks jstack6. We need more and more people to make the choice you’ve already made. We’ve estimated that, depending on where you live, driving a Leaf can save you over $10,000 on fuel costs. And if people install solar panels on their roofs, we can deliver electric cars that are truly zero emission vehicles.

      At the end of this month, we’re expecting California to approve plans to require car companies to put about 1.4 million new electric cars on dealer lots by 2025. If that goes through, a lot more people will get to make the same great choice you’ve already made to cut down on pollution and cut America’s oil addiction.

      For more information on electric cars, check out our Model E electric car designs at http://www.ucsusa.org/Model-E

  • Muray Friedman

    Excellent blog as it’s important to make the public aware of the facts.
    Please publish the numbers re US oil reserves, current usage and the current drilling and production of US oil. There seems to be a belief out there that we have enough oil to last us for 200 years so there is no real problem.

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/news/experts/david-friedman.html David Friedman

      Thank you for the support.

      The U.S. only holds about 2 percent of the world’s conventional oil reserves, but we consume over 20 percent of the world’s oil. That math will never add up to drilling our way our of our dependence on oil imports. But there’s even more to that story, so keep an eye out for more blogs on some of these very topics.

      [full disclosure: Mr. Friedman and I are related. In fact, he's the one who used to take me fishing for skipjacks.]

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