The Oil Spill’s Uncertain Impact on What We Drive

Oil-Soaked Dead Bird

It’s too early to tell if the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will have a profound and lasting impact on personal attitudes toward oil consumption—or if the public will soon grow weary of the issue. But for now, the tragic spill is forcing the issue of oil dependence to the forefront.

A non-scientific online poll by MSNBC of about 1,200 web visitors has 57 percent of respondents saying that they are trying to rely less on oil, while 43 percent respond that it’s simply not practical.

On one extreme, you have a comments like this: “I will never own another gasoline burning vehicle. I will walk, take public transportation, and ride a bike. If I need to go a long way and haul my property, I will use a horse and wagon or a fully electric car.” Horse and wagon?

On the pragmatic end of the spectrum, another commenter wrote: “How else am I supposed to get to work? I consume what I consume due to necessity…There are simply no alternatives that are economically viable at this time. The Chevy Volt would be a great alternative if it were not so expensive.”

Economic Disconnect

It’s great to see rising awareness of electric-drive cars like the Volt enter the public dialogue about oil. Yet, as Tom Baruch, founder and managing director of CMEA Capital, reminds us in Forbes: “There remains a disconnect between the events in the gulf and both consumer behavior (in terms of energy usage) and energy policy (or lack thereof).” Baruch calls for Washington to put a price on carbon right away.

In other words, pictures of oil-soaked birds may make us sad, but we change our behavior only when the pain hits our pocketbooks. That pain might be on its way. Following President Obama’s decision to put a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf, drilling for oil and gas in the region dropped by 50 percent last week to the lowest level in 16 years.

In fact, the U.S. government slashed its forecasts for Gulf of Mexico output by 6.1 percent following the BP spill. As a result, many analysts see a significant impact on oil prices, but not for another year or two or three.

In the meantime, the oil continues to gush and we drive on. In the wake of the spill, it’s more important than ever for car shoppers to consider a hybrid or one of the plug-in cars heading to market later this year.

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  • Anonymous

    simply put… we are way too addicted to oil to pull ourselves out even if we know it’s the right thing to do

  • van

    I think the oil spill will create more demand for plug-in vehicles, both BEV’s and Plug-in Hybrids like the Volt and Prius PHV. If the second generation Leaf battery (NMC) does succeed in lowering cost below $300 per kwh of initial capacity, and reaches an energy density over 200 wh/kg, we will have the technology to end dependence. 2013 is going to be a very interesting year.

  • Mr.Bear

    The problem is that this oil spill, at least in terms of the cost of oil and gas, will never hit our pocket books. For as much oil is being spilled into the Gulf, the total world production is magnitudes greater.

    Hence why it also makes no sense to drill any more offshore wells in US waters. Assuming that all the resources were being tapped, it wouldn’t have much of an affect in lowing the price of oil.

    The economic impact from this spill is going to be felt in ecological damage, cleanup/restoration costs, loss of fishing, and loss of tourism. I think at most all that will cause is the cost of drilling new offshore wells to increase.

    If that does happen, then maybe that might cause fewer offshore wells to be drilled because the up-front costs will not be worth the long term profits.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Some of those pragmatists will be able to buy early EVs and will do so, once they are actually available.

  • veek

    -Yes, we can sure take the easy way and substitute Persian Gulf oil for Mexican Gulf oil, but importing OPEC oil runs the risk of more Exxon-Valdez types of oil spills, less long-term value for our jobs and currency, more wars-for-oil, continued climate change, etc.

    -Recently a popular car magazine ran an editorial page advocating a gas tax to reduce our demand for oil. The facing page had a full-page ad advising people to get out and have fun by taking a long (and totally unnecessary) pleasure-drive. Guess which side of the page was more pleasant, and stimulated far more endorphins (in the short run)?

    -Getting rid of our association of Cheap Oil with The Good Life will help get rid of a lot of consumption, and can enrich our lives greatly.

  • Elliot

    Two interesting things about this catastrophe. First, it is sending back some stunning images. That has to impact the public on some level. Sure, they can get over it and go back to their old ways, but it does have an impact. Second, this disaster may ultimately pit several large industries against one another. Normally its just a bunch of greenies battling the oil companies. This time you might see the travel and fishing industries going at it with big oil. Heck, healthcare might even get involved if we start seeing a rash of issues resulting from the spill.

    That might be an interesting battle.

  • Anonymous

    There are ways to save on gas with buying a new expensive fancy modern car. You could e.g. move closer to where you work. It is crazy how much time and gas is wasted because people want to live far away from their workplace in big nice house where they actually never spend much time because they are always stuck in traffic burning gas …. I know this won’t work for everyone, but many many can do it – or at least move somewhere where you can catch public transportation if possible.

  • Anonymous

    I meant of course ‘without buying a new car’ 🙂

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