Gas prices have been reaching a new high practically every day, and with each cent that is added on to the already sky-high number comes a collective groan from the millions that need to fill up their tank.According to Stu Ackerman, we should have seen this coming a long time ago.

"Back in 1973, during the first energy crisis, oil prices came to three dollars a barrel," the Quakertown resident said recently. "Then during the second energy crisis in 1979, it went up to over $30 a barrel, more than 10 times as much as before."

"If we had done something in the past 30 years we wouldn't be in this mess right now," he added.

Ackerman was just one of about 30 curious citizens who attended a presentation hosted by State Representative Paul Clymer (R-145) on rising gas and oil prices. The featured guest speaker at the meeting was Rolf Hanson, executive director of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania.

According to Hanson, the primary reason for rising gas prices is the ever-increasing price of crude oil. When the price of crude oil goes up, gas follows, and usually at a higher rate, he said.

No one should expect crude oil prices to dip anytime soon, Hanson went on to say. There remain many factors which will continue to force crude oil prices upward, including weather, the weakness of the U.S. economy, and conflicts in oil rich nations like Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela.

Hanson also put blame on state lawmakers who have crafted regulations that make gas more expensive. He said that many cities in the U.S. will only accept gas which contains a certain amount of ethanol. With that being the case, oil companies have to make dozens of grades of gasoline. Hanson stressed the importance of abolishing highly variable city and state gas laws, in favor of one u niversal standard.

"We have to make 45 different blends, and put them in a pipeline and make sure they end up where they have to be.

It's a nightmare," he said. "In an ideal world, we would have one gasoline that we would use nationwide. The system in place now is just loaded with supply logistics."

But Hanson's biggest suggestion for how to lower gas prices involved having the federal government ease up on laws that bar domestic oil drilling. He said there remain many potentially oil-rich areas off the shores of the U.S., but blamed environmental protection laws-which prohibit drilling or any other kinds of oil extraction methods from being used-for preventing exploration which could boost domestic oil supply.

In a crisis like this, Hanson said it is time to revise those laws.

"About 85 percent of U.S. offshore waters are banned from doing exploration... If we were allowed into those areas, there are approximately 118 billion barrels that we could use, enough to power 65 million cars for 60 years," he said.

But until any of theses changes come into effect, those in need of a quick fill-up will have to continue to pay big bucks while at the pump.

With local gas prices already as high as $4.25 a gallon, many residents are trying to adjust to having to pay for gas with an "We have a pretty large family, and we own a one ton van," Jaime Faucette said. "We are trying to carpool when we can and make sure not to take many long trips."

The Sellersville resident also tried to stress the importance of having the government heed some of Hanson's suggestions.

"We need to remove these restrictions on the oil companies, so they can produce oil and gas in our own boundaries. If that can happen, and in an environmentally safe way, it is definitely an essential part in solving this problem," Faucette said.

Kyle Gargan is an intern at The Free Press in Quakertown. He can be reached at tfp@berksmontnews.com.

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