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When They Don’t Come

By Greg Kozera - | May 19, 2021

This week I went to my small local post office to mail a flat. My guess was a cost of less than $2 to mail. I didn’t have any stamps. The postmaster is a friend I have known for years and is very efficient. She knew the postage was $1.60. Then apologized, “I’m sorry. I can’t mail that for you now. Our computer is down.” “No problem I have cash.” I responded. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t even sell you stamps because they must be scanned.” I have money. She has stamps. We want to do a transaction. But without the computer everything stops. A few years ago, I might not have been able to use my credit card. The transaction would have been done with cash. In today’s world when computers go down everything shuts down.

This week, according to news reports, a hack shutdown the Colonial Gasoline Pipeline running from the Gulf Coast to the southeast United States. This was a much bigger deal than buying stamps. Stations quickly ran out of gasoline from panic buying. I have a friend sitting in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina who can’t get home because he can’t find a station with gasoline. Some people were experiencing long gasoline lines for the first time in their life.

In challenging times some people step up to make good things happen. Some people do stupid things like filling up small plastic grocery bags with gasoline. My son witnessed this in Maryland. “At least she double bagged it.” When someone started pumping gasoline into an open plastic laundry basket in the back of their pickup truck, my son decided it was time to leave. Don’t ever do these things. It is very dangerous.

The panic buying wasn’t limited to states served by the Colonial Pipeline. Most of our gasoline comes from a refinery in Ashland, KY. Our local service station ran out of gasoline from panic buying. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to find the gasoline I needed for a trip this weekend. Even at that station people were filling up numerous gas cans and 55-gallon drums. You may also have been impacted by shortages from panic buying.

Some good may have come from this. For the last 10+ years gasoline has been plentiful and since 2014 it has been cheap thanks to shale development in the United States. The U.S. has become the leading oil producer in the world. No longer can OPEC Oil Ministers meet in a smoke-filled room and decide world oil prices and what the price we pay for gasoline will be.

I can tell when talking to people about long gasoline lines and only being able to buy gasoline on odd or even days caused by the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s is meaningless unless they experienced it themselves. It was like my parents telling me about the Great Depression of the 1930s. I can’t fully appreciate the hardships they went through.

More people can recall how gasoline prices spiked every time war broke out in the Middle East. A lot of people might remember how gasoline prices also spiked when hurricanes or the threat of them happened on the Gulf Coast. OPEC oil couldn’t be delivered to Gulf Coast refineries and offshore wells had to be shut in. Local refineries also used OPEC oil which couldn’t reach them during a hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 our gasoline spiked to $4.25 literally overnight.

In 2017 after Hurricane Harvey our local gasoline prices fell by 15 cents per gallon. Local refineries were using liquids from local wells to refine our gasoline, not OPEC oil. We were insulted from Gulf Coast hurricanes and Middle East war price fluctuations. We are not insulated from computer failures and hoarding. Katrina was over 15 years ago. Young people have never experienced gasoline shortages and other folks may have forgotten. Sometimes we don’t appreciate something or someone until we lose it or them.

There are people who would like to eliminate fossil fuels and the American oil and natural gas industry. I spent over 40 years in that industry so I know a little about it. Since I retired 5 years ago all we have gotten from the oil and gas industry (for a price) is fuel for our cars to see our children, grandchildren, for vacation and for business travel. The vehicles are mostly plastic, a natural gas product. Oil and natural gas have made possible healthcare, medications (including vaccines) and medical equipment that has kept my family alive and safe. They are also the raw materials for hundreds of products we use daily including the computer I’m now using.

Fortunately, this gasoline shortage is short term. Our country still has plenty of oil and natural gas. With all of the panic this one incident caused, imagine a long-term or permanent shortage.

What would that do for travel, vacations and availability of products we use every day? The people who get hurt the most with rising gasoline prices are the people who can least afford it, like the single mom who works with my wife and drives 120 miles everyday round trip to work. Her cost for gasoline is up almost $100 a month. Maybe not a big deal for many people. It is huge for her and her family. We count on computers and on fossil fuels. When they don’t come bad things can happen to people and their finances.

This week I attended a virtual workshop on Climate Change and Utilization of Natural Gas, attended primarily by technical people in government and various industries. These technical leaders made it clear how important natural gas is to increase renewable energy. The workshop generated action items to create significant solutions to climate change that can be implemented relatively quickly. If climate change is a serious problem, talk, personal attacks and blame don’t help. We need collaboration, serious solutions and action. All things are possible