Long: Obama not to blame for high gas prices

Craig Long

It’s not unusual for the public to blame the president for any and every problem facing the nation. Recently, President Barack Obama has been blamed for increasing gas prices over the course of his presidency. I saw something posted on Facebook blaming him just last week. It isn’t only on Facebook, either: The Republican Party issued a set of talking points that highlight gas prices as a criticism of Obama. Fox News, which at times acts as the mouthpiece of the GOP, even read directly off of it on Fox & Friends.

Placing blame on Obama in this case is simply unjust. He has absolutely nothing to do with setting the price of gasoline. That is determined by the pricepoint of oil barrels, which is controlled via the companies that drill for the oil, as well as speculators and organizations such as Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

It’s a product of the free market, featuring supply and demand at its finest. If the supply decreases, the value of what is sold increases. That causes the price of gas to increase on our end. If the market is flooded by excess oil supplies, the cost falls.

But I don’t recall hearing of any recent oil shortages. So what is it that is making the cost suddenly jump up? I remember barely a month ago when gas fell under $3 per gallon average in the state since February 2011. So why is it projected to go over $5 this summer?

If the industry was suffering financially, I would understand the increase in cost. So I took a look at the profit margins from the fourth quarter of last year of some of the industry giants to see what kind of profits or losses they are posting. What I found quite frankly shocked me.

BP saw a fourth quarter profit of $7.6 billion which drew their yearly profits to $25 billion. Exxon Mobil saw a profit of $9.4 billion last quarter. Chevron netted $5.1 billion. Conoco saw a profit of $3.39 billion.

Add the sum of the profits of just these four companies, and you get about $25.5 billion dollars. In one quarter, of one year.

There is much more to these companies’ profit margins than simply the price of crude oil. I’m by no means saying oil companies shouldn’t profit. But these companies are making money hand over fist. Looking at the 50 most profitable companies in 2011, Exxon is first and Chevron is third. Exxon actually profited 1.5 times the next closest company.

Looking at the profit margins, it is unbelievable we still subsidize this industry via tax credits and grants for oil exploration. A bill in the Senate last year called for a cut of $20 billion that our government forgives or gives to the oil industry over ten years. That’s less than the profits the four companies above posted in the fourth quarter. You’d better believe that wouldn’t even come close to completely eliminating the subsidies, either. But it was still unacceptable to Senate Republicans, who voted nearly unanimously against the bill, causing it to fail.

This industry is making some of the highest profits in the nation. Gas prices are projected to exceed $5 on average for the first time in U.S. history. And our government still subsidizes the industry? According to the Los Angeles Times, our subsidies of oil started in 1995. At that time, Exxon only had a $1.9 billion dollar profit margin for the year, a full 20 percent of their quarterly profit last year. It’s fairly obvious that these subsidies are no longer needed.

So what does all of this have to do with Obama? Well, nothing. And that’s the point. The subsidies, regulations and taxes are all determined by Congress. Currently, Congressional Republicans are pushing for environmentally risky projects such as drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the Keystone XL pipeline across the central United States, claiming it is necessary to keep gas prices down. Meanwhile, they are hiding the immense profitability the industry already features and claiming the projects are necessary to relieve high gas prices.

Obama controls relatively little as far as oil goes. The majority of our oil comes from our own country, and our neighbors to the north and south, so better relations with the Middle East would likely solve little. And while there is an oil reserve at his disposal, it only contains enough oil to supply the country’s needs for about 35 days and isn’t a long term fix. Republican attempts to blame him are an attempt to mislead the public to blame Obama, when he has absolutely nothing to do with the problem in the first place.