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Politicians don't control oil prices

Mar 18, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

Opportunities to understand people and issues abound if you take the time to listen.

Last week I held a restaurant paging device as my wife and I waited outside the Olive Garden in Cheyenne for an available table.

It was a nice day in the capital city, so we waited outside for a while, but as usual, the Wyoming wind came up. It was bit too cold for Sue, so we went inside just as a bench cleared.

We sat for a moment and a couple came in with a teen-aged boy in tow. It turned out two adults were his grandfather and aunt.

The aunt opened their conversation with, "I've been chosen as a Republican delegate, and I need you to ask your dad which candidate is the best for oil and gas."

Imagine hearing that question in Wyoming, the extractive energy center of the planet.

The teen was quick to respond in Fox News lockstep, "Well, don't vote for Mitt Romney. He's just a liberal in disguise. Pick someone who is a real conservative."

Wow, words quoted from Limbaugh, O'Reilly or one of the other right-wing commentators, directly from this 15-year old's mouth. The kid obviously watched at least one "news" channel and listened to talk radio in the Wyoming market.

The assumption was that the farther right the elected official, the better it is for oil and gas. The concept of "better" had nothing to do with quality; it was focused entirely on the assumption that a Republican in the White House means higher crude oil prices, higher prices at the pump, and an overall boom in energy production.

But does it really?

Am I the only one that noticed gasoline prices beginning to rise almost identically with the arrival of the Republican primary season? It seems more than coincidence that crude oil prices have risen by about a dollar a week since the Iowa caucuses.

If you were a conspiracy theorist, (and who isn't anymore?) you might think that "Big Oil" was longing for the good old days of "W" and Dick, and that they were systematically hiking the price to weaken Obama's chance at a second term.

If that were true it would create a very strange Catch-22 situation for Exxon, Conoco and Chevron.

Crude is more than $105 a barrel right now, even with a Democrat in power. True, it's not as high as the glory days of July 2008 when crude hit its all-time high of $145.29 a barrel on the NYMEX.

Maybe it's a fear of the results of the 2008 election. By late December, as the Bush presidency entered its final days, crude had dropped to $30 a barrel.

Two schools of thought followed the 500 percent drop in oil prices (reflected by just a 200 percent drop at the pump, by the way).

The first is that the GOP under "W" and Dick just gouged America to the breaking point, creating an environment of obscene profits for their friends and former business partners in the oil industry. It is a possibility.

The second is that the unprecedented drop in oil prices came as a result of a crippled economy, a crippling brought on by diesel and gasoline prices that led to bankruptcy across the spectrum of American industry.

Once again, it is a possibility. Does anyone remember trying to farm on diesel selling for more than $5 a gallon? Anyone remember trying to feed horses on $300 a ton hay or paying the additional surcharges for fuel costs in nearly every setting?

While these two viewpoints no doubt will be debated for a long time another issue arises over the last four years that most people have missed.

In 2008 57 percent of our oil came from foreign sources, most of it from the Middle East. In 2012 America imports only 45 percent of our oil while producing 55 percent, the highest domestic production since World War II.

I wonder if that 15-year old knew any of these facts. I would wager that he did not. He reported the party line well, but his delivery was more of a parroting than an actual display of knowledge.

Oil's back on the rise, and the mess that is the GOP's campaign for the presidency now might depend on a surprise candidate entering late in the field, perhaps during the convention. A more desperate long shot relies on an October surprise that could embarrass Obama and untrack his bid for a second term.

Whatever happens over the next eight months, one thing is guaranteed. No matter how high the production, no matter whether demand rises or falls, the price of fuel will continue to rise.

Throw in an Israeli air strike on Iran's nuclear program, and $5 a gallon diesel will be thought of as the good old days.

Having one party or another in the White House doesn't deter corporate America anymore. The 3,000 gas wells scheduled to be drilled in North Dakota don't faze them either. Only the Wyoming Legislature fears falling prices in the gas fields. No one else is ready to count on a drop in energy prices.

So, which candidate is the best for oil and gas in Wyoming? Just pick one. It doesn't matter who you think runs the country. It is abundantly evident which unelected group really does, and we have no vote in that process.

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