Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Barack Obama's Three and a Half Day Cure

The media coverage of yesterday's energy speech by Sen. Barack Obama has focused mainly on Obama's flip-flop on opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But that is really a dog-bites-man story. Hardly a day goes by anymore that Obama does not abandon one or another of his "consistently" held positions. Looking a little closer at the proposal, anathema to the press, reveals that Obama's plan to release 70 million barrels from the reserve is as insulting as it is cynical.

During the primaries, Sen. Clinton and Sen. McCain joined forces to call for a suspension of the 18.4 cent federal gasoline tax for the summer. Obama, the big populist, derided that proposal.

“We're arguing over a gimmick that would save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say they did something.” [...]

“Well, let me tell you, this isn't an idea designed to get you through the summer, it's designed to get them through an election.”

Now, however, with his own election prospects dimming, Obama has made a proposal every bit as shallow and meaningless as he claimed the gas tax holiday was.

Let's run the numbers.

According to the Energy Information Agency, the United States uses about 20 million barrels of oil a day. Obama called for 70 million barrels of oil to be released from the SPR to help lower prices. Furthermore, he dressed up his proposal by specifically calling for light crude to be released, on the theory that it could be more easily refined into gasoline and thus have the greatest impact on prices. 70 million divided by 20 million is 3.5. So, Obama's answer to high gasoline prices is to release three and a half days worth of oil from the nation's emergency reserves.

But looking deeper, it gets worse. The helpful people at the EIA say that one barrel of oil makes about 20 gallons of gasoline. 70 million times 20 gallons equals 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline that would be added to the market by Sen. Obama's proposal. The Federal Highway Administration says that there were 199 million licensed drivers in the United States in 2004. That number went up by about 4 million drivers a year in the 1990s and 2000s, so we can safely assume that the actual number this year is at least 210 million. 1.4 billion divided by 210 million is 6.67. That is how much gasoline per driver that Sen. Obama would create by releasing 70 million barrels of oil from the SPR.

The average gas tank holds about 16 gallons of gas. Therefore Sen. Obama's proposal would provide each licensed driver with about 40% of a tank of gas. If Sen. McCain's gas tax holiday was worthless because it would only save consumers about "half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer," how much worse is Obama's plan to give drivers less than half a tank once, and for only three and a half days? Moreover, the average price of a gallon of gasoline, according to the EIA, is about $3.90. That means that Obama's plan would save the average driver about $26. That is less than the $30 that Obama said the gas-tax holiday would save the average driver.

Sen. Obama would have been better off not flipping on the issue of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The numbers don't lie. By his own standards, Sen. Obama's proposal is less than insignificant, worse than cynical, and dishonest in the extreme. Obama told the American people that releasing oil from the reserve would have an impact on gas prices in about two weeks. But that claim counts upon the ignorance of the audience. Like most liberal giveaways, Obama's largess is calculated to be just enough to make him look good, but not nearly enough to solve the problem.


Anonymous said...

Don't we also have to look at the supply and demand picture? Refiners and gas stations aren't going to just give away 6 and two-thirds of a gallon for free to each driver. Or would that free gas appear in cheaper gas prices for a free weeks amounting to 6.67*210*10^6 of free gas?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a little gimmicky, he is a politician after all. But I think you fail to also take into account is the fact that the oil price is up because of a supply/demand issue. This plan will increase the supply, which will help bring down the oil prices. Is the plan perfect, no. Is this plan good for the nation, probably not. Is this plan better than McCain's, yes.
McCain's plan what do nothing about the supply issue, thus not affecting prices beyond the 18.4 cents. But this would also take millions of dollars away from the DOT which uses that gas tax to pay for the roads that we drive on.

Mark Impomeni said...


Good points, but I must quibble with your analysis. Overall, the high price of oil is a supply/demand issue, that's why Republicans and McCain have been pushing for increased production of American oil, to increase supplies. Obama is against drilling, despite his recent paeans to "compromise."

McCain's gas tax holiday isn't about supply. It never was. But Obama's plan isn't really about supply either. His plan would increase supply for less than a week. Then it would actually become a drain on supplies because the oil from the SPR would have to be replaced.

The point here is that Obama derided McCain's (and Hillary's) gas tax holiday as a gimmick. But then he turns around and proposes a gimmick of his own that's even less of a solution to the problem than the one he criticized.

Lastly, please provide yourself with a screen name. We're very friendly here.

Thanks for reading and commenting.


mark Impomeni