Got Gas?

Photo by Jack GouldIf all goes according to plan, none of the big oil companies currently gouging drivers will make any money on April 30. Organizers of a 24-hour strike that day-which has been promoted almost exclusively through e-mail-has one purpose: telling big oil companies like Exxon, Texaco and Atlantic Richfield that gasoline consumers are sick of paying high prices at the pumps merely to increase company profits.

“We are in the middle of a global oil glut,” said Charlie Langley of the San Diego-based Utility Consumer's Action Network. “Gas prices are up because we have a cartel [of oil companies] setting prices, not a free market.”

Since the price increases began in March, the oil companies have scrambled to explain their need to add nearly 50 cents to the price of a gallon of gas, most notably by blaming the increase on the oil states' announced wish to cut production by 2 percent. In fact, says Langley, the price is higher in California than the rest of the nation largely because the oil companies lost a couple of refineries up north-one in a massive explosion in Avon two weeks ago that killed four men (Tosco, which owned the Avon refinery, had another of its refineries blow in Martinez two years ago). “Because of this,” Langley said, “we'll see a gradual flattening of prices” once refinery production resumes at its normal level.

In the meantime, LA and OC drivers will continue to pay more at the pump. If you're still not convinced oil companies are gouging consumers, think about the following before you drive up to a gas pump on April 30:

Refinery inventories of gasoline currently stand at 11.7 million barrels-1 percent higher than last year at this time. The $55 billion to $96 billion per year spent by the U.S. military to defend the nation's oil interests around the world. Just six companies control 90 percent of the state's oil refineries. Those awful Bob Hope commercials for Texaco. Gulf and Chevron merged in 1983. The wholesale price of gas in LA is 64 cents per gallon. In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh after he nationalized the facilities and reserves of British Petroleum in his country. The U.S. government's massive high-tech arms sales to Iran from the mid-1950s until the 1979 revolution, when the U.S. was propping up the anti-democratic Shah of Iran as “our policeman” in the Middle East. The $1.6 billion spent every year by the federal government on pollution control and liability costs produced by the oil companies. Mobil's and Exxon's preparations to merge. The Gulf War, in which the U.S. military defended the Saudi Arabian oil fields and liberated the Kuwaiti oil fields, despite the fact that both countries were anti-democratic monarchies. The $62 million spent on lobbying the federal government by the 109 companies and associations that make up the oil industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. When former President George Bush left Yale in 1948, he went to work painting oil-pumping equipment and then selling drill bits before scraping together enough money to help form the Zapata Oil Co. The price of West Coast crude oil jumped from $10.15 per barrel on the last day of 1998 to $16.05 on April 20. The five former government officials from the Carter, Bush and Clinton administrations-Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, John Sununu, Richard Cheney and Lloyd Bentsen-currently lobbying on behalf of the U.S. oil companies for a piece of the potential 200-billion barrel, $4 trillion Caspian Sea oil reserves. Because of lowered federal taxes for the industry, oil companies pay between $123 million and $323 million less than they should in state income taxes. California gets 80 percent to 90 percent of its oil from Alaska and state wells. The average gas prices for the nation are $1.23 per gallon-for Southern California, they're $1.51 per gallon. The former Soviet Union has more oil reserves than the whole Middle East. The crude that gushed from the tanker Exxon Valdezon March 24, 1989, into Alaska's serene Prince William Sound. The $114.6 billion in subsidies and giveaways the federal government provides every year to oil companies for research and development and export financing. Shell's and Chevron's complicity in bloody human-rights abuses by the Nigerian government. ARCO and BP Amoco (itself the product of a merger) are preparing for a $25 billion merge. Chevron spokesman Fred Gorell's recent statement that the oil refiners “have been suffering from low prices for years. If motorists don't want to pay higher prices, they shouldn't drive.” The 37 sailors killed in 1987 when an Iraqi missile struck the frigate USS Stark, which was then escorting a Kuwaiti tanker through the Persian Gulf.

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