Gas Prices & Traffic Reports
In this election year, I’m trying to stay plugged into the news despite the, at times, exasperating circumstances surrounding the presidential candidates. While the antics of Mr. Trump, Sec. Clinton, their supporters and detractors, can be downright painful to watch sometimes, now that football season is here, I can easily (new cliche alert) pivot my attention because there are few things for this Pittsburgh Steelers fan that surpass the newsworthiness of a Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown TD pass. Hashtag, here we go Steelers, here we go. However, when I learned of Governor Haslam’s recent state of emergency declaration for Tennessee in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline leak near Birmingham, AL, I took notice. In announcing the declaration, the Governor was quick to point out that no gas shortage currently exists, although there were recent reports of stations with a significant number of closed pumps in the Nashville area. The state of emergency declaration simply allows for the relaxing of limits on hours of delivery to retail gasoline outlets, and other such measures designed to keep Tennessee motorists with a ready supply of fuel. The declaration also automatically puts into place measures designed to prohibit fuel retailers from gouging the public should there actually be a fuel shortage.
When the oil industry sneezes, those of us who report traffic for a living catch a cold. Well, not exactly, however less than 24 hours after the announcement, the price of gas at some stations in Tennessee was up over 50 cents per gallon from the day before. This may result in fewer vehicles on the road each afternoon, but not by many. Most folks still have to get home from work each day, which means I still have a job to do.
As of this writing, the cause of the Colonial Pipeline leak has yet to be determined. Just as none of us are likely to intentionally spill our drinks in a fancy restaurant, oil companies don’t set out to leak or spill their product. However, accidents do happen, and accidents will continue to happen regardless of the skill and best intentions of the oil companies. Thus, the question becomes to what extent do we enact measures to minimize the impact of such accidents. There are those who might suggest that doing away with the entire fossil fuel industry would solve many of the environmental problems we face. While this may be true, I find it to be a highly impractical approach. First, for selfish reasons. No gas = no cars = no car radios = no job for me. The heretofore dominance of car radios as the primary source of real time traffic information is already being threatened by other technology, but that’s another story.
I grew up hearing my Dad, a chemical engineer whose employment in corporate America resulted in my comfortable upbringing, gripe about Ralph Nader and the like who he perceived to be sort of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. But it was Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed published in 1965 that sparked serious debate about auto safety in this country, and as a result, my Dad had both family vehicles (purchased before 1964) retrofitted with seat belts. Studies through the years have clearly shown that seat belts save lives. The point I’m trying to make here is that with all the contentious argument between the oil industry and those determined to protect the environment, each side can find benefit in listening to the other.
While this particular gas pipeline leak is significant enough for the Governors of Tennessee and several other southern states to declare states of emergency, it is a mere bump in the road compared to the controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Again, we don’t yet know what caused the leak, and at this point it appears at least that the leak has been contained with minimal environmental effect. In all likelihood, the leak will be repaired, gas will begin flowing again, and we’ll all have plenty of gas at a good price in time to drive to Grandma’s house this Thanksgiving.
The issues surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, however, are about much more than just some of us being inconvenienced by higher gas prices. There are, of course, environmental concerns as with the construction of any pipeline, but we, as a society, are also being forced to revisit our relationship with Native American peoples and customs. This, with the backdrop of many Americans who wish to limit U.S. immigration on the basis of nationality and religion, in a state in which the energy industry has led the way to a strong economy and low unemployment. There really is a lot going on here.
According to an article published by the Smithsonian (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/understanding-controversy-behind-dakota-access-pipeline-180960450/), the original plans were for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River near North Dakota’s capital, Bismark. The proposed route was changed when it was determined a spill could significantly impact that city’s drinking water. Is protecting a state capital more important than protecting a less populated area that is of religious significance to a cultural minority? Should some groups assume a greater risk than others in order for us all to enjoy an abundant source of energy and jobs? Should any group be forced to assume such risk? Will opposing interests actually listen to each other?
In many ways, I was glad when the football season started a few weeks ago. I reasoned that with football, I had something else to occupy my attention other than the upcoming elections, particularly the Presidential debates which I’m still not sure I want to watch. In a world seemingly dominated by endless “lock her up” or “release his tax returns” memes on social media which only serve to trivialize rather than enlighten, a quick glance at the recent jump in gas prices reminds us that the serious issues are out there. We can only hope the candidates give those issues the serious discussion they deserve. Till then, I’ll be cracking open a few cold ones and waiving my Terrible Towel.