High oil prices cause anxiety for travelers

Ben Theobald

Spring break is just about here, and those who are traveling should be prepared to be hit hard by high gas prices, which are currently at an average of $3.50 a gallon.

“Prices have gone up 30 cents in the past two weeks,” said Jim Bushnell, associate professor in economics. “In the last year the price has gone up 80 cents.”

Oil prices have been on the rise, and they are currently near $105 a barrel.

“It’s less clear if this run-up is going to be long lasting since it’s driven by revolutions in Libya,” Bushnell said. “If those places settle down then prices would go down.”

Consumer gas consumption has been high in Iowa.

“The average consumption in Iowa is about 550 gallons a year,” Bushnell said. “Increase in expenditures for the average Iowan is about $400 per year.”

High oil prices have a high number of effects with businesses increasing their costs of operation.

“Oil prices matter for economics and finance,” said James Brown, assistant professor in finance. “There is no question that increases in supply cause lower prices and vice versa: disruptions to supply cause higher prices.”

Oil has had a huge effect on the country’s trade deficit.

“The increase in oil prices has caused the trade deficit to increase by about 10 percent in terms of what we’re paying for the traditional cost of imported oil,” Bushnell said. “Balance of trade has always been a problem and becomes worse when prices spike.”

Spiking prices begs the question: Should there be a change in options of obtaining fossil fuels?

“The economics of those decisions will change if oil prices get high enough,” Brown said. “It can then make sense to pursue options that were previously politically and economically infeasible.”

There are options that may become feasible, Brown said.

“Increased domestic exploration and more investment in alternative sources of energy for another [are other options],” Brown said. “The payoff for doing both is greater if oil prices were to remain high.”

One of those options for obtaining fossil fuels has been to stop depending on foreign oil.

“I personally believe that increased exploration and use of domestic oil reserves is long overdue and would help reduce our reliance on foreign oil,” said Travis Sapp, associate professor in finance. “The Obama administration should open Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and lift the ban on off-shore drilling rather than tinker with opening the strategic oil reserve.”

Another question that comes up is the matter of who is to blame for these high oil prices.

“Some people blame speculators for high oil prices, but this is just shooting the messenger,” Sapp said. “Market participants who are trading oil futures are doing so based on their best forecasts of future prices. It is the disruption to supply — real or anticipated — that is driving the higher prices observed now.”

Other alternatives to high fuel prices amongst consumers have not been less driving, but instead more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“I wouldn’t expect a huge difference in terms of driving,” Bushnell said. “The more pronounce effect of oil prices has been in the selection of vehicles and more of a market preference of more fuel efficient vehicles.”

General Motors saw vehicles such as the SUV diminish 21 percent in sales in 2008 because of rising gas prices.

Despite changes in prices of oil, driving is the least expensive part in terms of owning a vehicle.

“Factor cost of insurance and car payments, those tend to be larger expenses than fuel,” Bushnell said. “You don’t see a huge change in the short run of driver behavior over a 30 cent change in gas prices.

Jillian Heimbruch, senior in kinesiology and health, is driving with a friend to Chicago and Kansas City during Spring Break.

“We talked about going to New Orleans,” Heimbruch said. “But we looked up to see how many hours that would be on MapQuest where they had a link to see how much gas would be for that distance. It was enough to deter. Also we had other commitments.”