The U.S. fleet is now more fuel efficient than ever, and gasoline demand in the U.S. has fallen for 52 straight weeks. The U.S. is never again expected to consume as much gasoline as it did in 2006. That means that while drivers are paying more than they used to, they would have been paying much more if they consumed as much gasoline as they did in the middle of the last decade.
Q: Are prices high because the world is running out of oil?
A: Not yet. Prices are high because there's not a lot of oil that can be quickly and easily brought to market to meet demand or potential supply disruptions from natural disasters or political turmoil. Like most commodities, the need for oil is so great that people will pay almost anything, in the short term, to get their hands on what might be the last available barrel at any given moment.
But substantial new reserves of oil have been found in shale formations in the United States, in the Atlantic deep waters off of Africa and South America, and on the east coast of Africa. Canada has enormous reserves, and production is growing fast there. The Arctic, which is largely unexplored, is thought to have 25 percent of the world's known reserves.
All of this oil, however is hard to get and expensive to produce. That leads analysts to believe that oil will never stay much below $60 a barrel for an extended period again. As soon as oil prices fall, producers will stop developing this expensive oil until demand, and high prices, return. Current high prices have fueled a boom in oil exploration that is sure to bring more crude to the market in coming years. But it is not here yet, so for now, pump prices — and frustration — are expected to remain high.
Jonathan Fahey can be reached at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey .
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