We have all experienced pain at the pump this summer. It appears that many unforeseen circumstances contributed to this most recent spike in oil prices—increased travel demand, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a world that discourages new fossil fuel exploration.
This isn’t the first time our nation has felt the stress created by high fuel prices. For those of you who were not yet on the planet, America experienced an oil crisis in 1973. In October of that year, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced an oil embargo to punish nations, including the United States, that supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The embargo lasted until the following March. During that time, the price per barrel of oil quadrupled from $3 to $12. While that doesn’t seem like a lot to those of us used to $100+ per-barrel prices, it was a major shock at the time.
Not only was fuel more expensive, it was also in short supply. Long gas lines appeared everywhere, and many stations were not able to restock. My high school job back then was working at a local gas station. That was back when a station attendant would fill your tank (those of you in New Jersey still know what this is like). Our little station had five pumps that were running constantly. The shortages were so bad that in my home state of Pennsylvania, motorists were only allowed to purchase gas every other day, based on the number on their license plate.
My thought back then, and ever since, was that our nation needs to find other types of fuel to power our vehicles, rather than relying on international sources that can easily manipulate us with threats and political posturing. I believed that a “Manhattan-style” science mission, like the group that developed the atomic bomb, should have been established then to explore alternative energy. However, business and political interests and our desire for relatively inexpensive fuel have kept us hostage to world politics ever since.
While we’re finally seeing movement toward electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, today 76% of commercial trucks still run on diesel. Most of the others run on gasoline. We have the chance to reverse that, but it will take time. We do not yet have the charging infrastructure and energy-generating capacity to just flip the switch. We need a sound conversion plan that makes it affordable and practical. And we need to take the initiative now, rather than just letting market conditions set the tone.I only wish we had begun that journey in 1973. We might already be at our destination and could have avoided our current summer of woe.