Rising gas prices due to many factors

Brandon Hallmark

Driving to Ames every day, I am painfully aware of the recent increases in oil prices. Far from the twenty to thirty bucks I shelled out a couple months ago, I recently deposited over forty dollars into the money black hole most of us know as the fuel pump. And now that Spring Break is over, most of you are probably also painfully aware that gas prices have gone up. But the question on everyone’s mind right now is probably about the same:

Will gas prices ever go back down?

Dr. Jim Bushnell, associate professor of economics, said we are currently in a temporary shock caused by recent events.

In contrast, Dr. Igor Beresnev, professor of geophysics, indicated that prices will only continue to increase.

Like most of you, I am hoping for the former. But the future of gas prices, and how long supplies will last, is the subject of many heated debates.

“Everybody’s got their own pet theory about what’s going to happen to oil prices,” Bushnell said.

“There’s been much debate going on,” Beresnev said. “There are different views, but what I tell my classes is that the consensus among scientists and the U.S. Geological survey is that we only have enough oil left for forty to fifty years.”

Bushnell however believes we are far from running out of conventional fossil fuels, and even if we do, there are alternative sources like coal.

“Generally my colleges and I like to say we’re going to run out of air before we run out of oil,” Bushnell  said. “Even if what we think of as general crude oil does deplete, there are vast amounts of alternative forms of crude oil like coal and shale.”

But who’s right? Oil prices depend on several factors. As Bushnell stated, gas prices are affected by current events.

“There’s less oil in the short run because of things like the revolution in Libya, but once it’s resolved in a couple years, oil supplies will be back,” Bushnell said.

However, Beresnev said the general trend indicates prices have and will, on average, continue to rise regardless of short-term spikes and dips.

“I think that trend will eventually overshadow everything else because when there’s less and less oil available to produce, prices will increase,” Beresnev said. “My claim is that they will keep increasing until people are forced to burn less gas. People will be forced to make economic decisions to burn less gas.”

Both however agree that oil production could have negative effects on the environment, and Bushnell said drilling in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would not have a significant effect on oil prices. They also both indicated that some alternative sources like the Tar Sands in Canada are far more disastrous to the environment than they’re worth.

“Tar sands are used extensively now in Canada and they are an environmental disaster,” Beresnev said. “They’re relatively cheap, but forcing the oil out produces a desert behind them, and there’s nothing left.”

“I don’t think it’s a matter of running out of oil, I think it’s a matter of how high the price is going to go before we switch to alternatives,” Bushnell said. “Yes, there’s a fixed amount out there, and over the last 100, 200 years we’ve used a lot of it, but there’s still a lot out there and once you go beyond conventional petroleum there are all sorts of other ways to make oil that at $100 to $150 a barrel are likely to be worth the money.”

“I think there’s little doubt that fossil fuels are unsustainable beyond the 21st century,” Beresnev said. “If humanity is to survive the next 100 years, we must come up with an alternative to fossil fuels.”

So, the real cost of fuel isn’t just the number paid at the pump, but also the impact on the environment, and for our future. Events such as the Deep Water Horizon incident in April can also be precipitated by our unquenchable thirst for oil.