Two weeks ago, President Obama tapped into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the first time since 2008. This reserve, located along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, is currently quoted to contain 726.5 million barrels of crude oil, which are meant to allow us to meet our country’s immense demand for oil in times of emergency. The president has been praised by some and criticized by others for this action, but we as Americans are left wondering exactly what this means for us, and how it may affect our daily lives.
What about the current economic and political situation warrants President Obama’s actions? How will we see the result of his actions at the pump this summer? Is this a temporary fix or a long term solution to our country’s oil woes? The answers to these questions may be speculation in part, but they are nonetheless important to explore as we consider the future of this country’s love affair with oil.
First of all, it is important to understand the concept of peak oil. Peak oil is the point at which we will reach the Earth’s maximum potential for oil extraction, meaning that our ability to extract petroleum will deplete from that point onward. The model used to estimate when we will hit peak oil is the same that accurately predicted that United States oil production would peak between 1965 and 1970. Some experts – including the International Energy Agency – believe that peak oil has already passed, that we are on the brink of experiencing the peak, or that the peak will occur within the next few years; other experts more optimistically predict that we will not hit peak oil for another decade or so.
Peak oil and the fact that the world’s energy is largely dependent on an extremely finite resource are reflected in rising gas prices and, by extension, President Obama’s recent actions. The president reasoned that he is releasing 30 million barrels of our reserve petroleum in order to meet rising demands this summer, citing instability in Libya and other foreign markets as the requisite “emergency.”
However, what Obama’s decision should really tell us is that gas prices are not going to fall as part of the natural ebb and flow of the international economy. Rising oil prices have become the norm and will more than likely continue to be part of our reality for years to come. It is necessary that we as a nation begin to seriously consider alternative forms of energy, but in order for this to be seen as a national priority, individuals need to take on the cause. As we approach peak oil, or possibly continue further past it, Americans will need to consider how we can learn to be less dependent on oil in our own lives.
In this spirit, here are some suggestions for how we can alleviate the pain at the pump this summer:
- Carpool: beyond being carbon-conscious on your commute, remember to take fewer vehicles to the beach and to all other summer destinations. After all, carpooling transforms any travel into a road trip!
- Buy a bike: what better time to utilize alternative forms of transportation than the warm summer months? If it is too hot to bike or walk to work, hop on an air-conditioned bus!
- When you must drive, make it count: in order to get the most of your gas mileage, fully inflate your tires and have an inspection to ensure that your car is running efficiently.
- Think local: when buying products, remember that those products produced close to home will generally be less affected by rising gas prices. Buying berries from a local farm, for example, makes more economic (and ecological) sense than buying bananas that are imported from Ecuador.
- Take the family on a “staycation”: rather than choosing a destination that requires a significant investment at the gas station (or at the airport, where the cost of flights is also rising due to oil prices), find an adventure close to home. Explore local attractions or create your own fun by turning your back yard into a campground, a water park, etc.
- Be creative!
Rising gas prices can be daunting, especially when compounded by the knowledge that we are not likely to see significant relief in the near future. However we need to see this, instead, as an opportunity for innovation. Peak oil can be seen as the beginning of what will need to be a new era in this country and beyond, and we as citizens have the opportunity to define it. Let’s begin this summer, by seeking ways to live sustainably and thereby save precious pennies. Remember to check in with Modern Serenity all summer long for suggestions on how to do that!
 U.S. Department of Energy. (2011, March 16). Strategic petroleum reserve: Quick facts and frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://fossil.energy.gov/programs/reserves/spr/spr-facts.html
 Peak oil. (2011, July). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil
 Bruce, M. (2011, June 23). Obama taps Strategic Petroleum Reserve; will release more if necessary. Retrieved from http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2011/06/obama-taps-strategic-petroleum-reserve-will-release-more-if-necessary.html