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What About This . . .? By Wayne William Cipriano

Before, during and after Harvey devastated Texas, we were forced to visit Springfield for medical appointments. On the Friday before I was pretty happy that gasoline prices had dipped / remained below $2.00 per gallon. We saw lots of $1.99s, some less, and even one $1.96. And that was without using special discount programs or membership only gasoline providers. That was Friday.
Five days later, as we drove through Sparta, Ozark and Spring-field, at 6:00 a.m., while Harvey was ravaging Texas, gas stations had already raised their prices from below $2.00 to $2.16 everywhere. On our way home the price everywhere had risen from $2.16 to $2.29 by noon. And, the next morning, when we had to return to Springfield for a progress check on the medical procedure the prices had jumped again, now to $2.37. Wow!
You know, with something as necessary in such large quantities as gasoline, the supply chain is geared to produce, de luxe. Petroleum must be refined pretty much as its pumped – it is difficult to just store it, there are not that many tankers, not that many storage tanks. And, you cannot store gasoline in the quantities produced for the same reasons.
We use gasoline at a predictable rate per day which varies as to the day of the week, season, holidays, and a disruption in that supply can cause scarcities to occur quickly. How real is this present “scarcity”? Who knows? The last time I saw gas stations run out of gas was in the 70s, I think. Still, panic buying did cause shortages in Houston, even in San Antonio, so it is real for them. But what about us? Are we in danger of No Gas Today?
There are ways to forcefully conserve any commodity without price gouging. Remember buying gas on even numbered days if your license plate ended with an even number, odd days odd numbers, vanity plates ending with A-N and then M-Z, and limited to ten gallons per purchase? Or, though I blush to suggest it, asking people to just use less gasoline for a little while?
OK, those methods are a hassle and might not work. Then what? These freaky hikes to encourage conservation? My Cousin Billy opines that such “conservation techniques” are really business people gouging every last penny out of their customers on the flimsiest of excuses right up to the point that they will shop elsewhere if possible, or even do without the item. He calls these business people “scum sucking pigs” but I am sure he means that in a nice way.
My Cousin Pollyanna might suggest that raising the price so quickly, even before a shortage is extant, or even marginally possible, is simply to encourage us all to drive more efficiently and thus share some of the saved gas with those who are in greater need of it.
Let’s say I believe these conser-vation arguments. I don’t, of course, but let’s say I do. Let’s go them one better. Let’s carry out their “conservation program” in spades. Why not consolidate trips for a while? Think ahead and not jump in the car and drive out on every whim? Maybe even, dare I say it, carpool? OK, that may be going a bit far but if we could drive only as really necessary, consolidate trips, plan our routes, make lists of places to go and things to get when we get there beforehand, stuff like that, it probably wouldn’t take all that much effort to cut our driving and our use of gasoline down significantly. I don’t think even 50% is unreasonable, but surely 25% is possible, or fifteen, or ten?
How quickly would these “necessary” price hikes disappear if gasoline were to begin “backing up in the pipeline” because we were using it at a reduced rate and the suppliers had to lower prices to entice us to use more?
Just like OPEC, American suppliers have to process product at a normal rate to deal with contracted deliveries. Sure, there are refineries off line now. Some due to the storm, some due to “scheduled maintenance” and perhaps, some to provide cover for nudging the price upwards, taking advantage of this tragedy as so many business people are so often so very eager to do.
Can we afford to take this shafting on a temporary basis? Sure we can. After all, how many of us work so hard for so little to validate all the stuff we enjoy? We can always take a few dollars from one expenditure and direct them to an enhanced energy budget to get to work, school, grocery store, can’t we?
But wouldn’t it be something if during a regional catastrophe such as Harvey, when the lives and locales of our fellow citizens were being torn apart, and a green light appeared for profiteering, we, the clients and customers of these business people reacted by merely cutting down significantly, if only for a short time on these wildly-priced services and goods?
Cousin Pollyanna would say we would be doing the right thing by making more of those goods and services available to others in an emergency. My Cousin Bill would say it’s a way for us, the people in the trenches, to get even with those scum sucking pig profiteers.
Either way, such behavior on our part might well increase the pressure to drive prices back to where they belong – representing a fair profit for a necessary commodity. Should we try a little self-directed conservation bringing smiles to the faces of both my cousins? Why not?

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