Do you remember the chant Drill, Drill, Drill?

It was important to drill everywhere even if it would only reduce gas prices by a penny or two over 20 years-

That’s were the Republicans were saying just a couple months ago. It was the only solution, they said. In Pocatello, Idaho the price of gasoline is $1.89/gal. $1.75 (11/25). This summer it hit $4.09. The same is true in general everywhere.

Of course, the price will rise again, but it’s important to remember how they stampeded many Americans and how one political party, in particular, made this a campaign cry. Drilling was to take precedence over wildlife and everything else. 11/25, in reality it was leasing, not drilling they were after.

Oil Closes Below $50, Lowest Price Since May 2005. By Jad Mouawad. New York Times.






  1. Wyo Native Avatar
    Wyo Native

    Oil prices have fallen and that is a good thing, but like you said they will rise again, and my guess is oil prices will be back over $100 by this time next year.

    But even though oil prices have fallen, Natural Gas prices have been rather stable, and have only decreased a little. The stable price of Natural Gas is allowing the continued drilling push in Wyoming and Colorado despite the falling Oil prices.

    Since Natural Gas is a big platform of the Democrats, and not even a Fossil Fuel according to Pelosi, I expect that the drilling rage will continue rather than subside in the west.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Wyo Native,

    You are probably right, although I don’t think the price of oil will be back over $100/barrel as long as the recession lasts.

    My point, however, was that a lot of people were convinced that a couple cents reduction in the price of gasoline was the only solution. Since then, the price has dropped about 220 cents and drilling had nothing to do with it.

  3. john weis Avatar
    john weis

    Gas prices are an interesting conundrum. On one hand, when they are high, they make western states oil shale look attractive to stupid politicians:

    on the other hand, when they are low they feed greater consumption. Low gas prices may be a short term saving grace for the faltering economy, but if global warming hits the world as anticipated, this current recession may look like much ado about little.

  4. Salle Avatar

    And perhaps it’s largely contrived by a greedy, hegemonic industry that suddenly sees its own demise and replacement…

    And then…

    The sheeple are so conditioned to the ten second sound-bite mentality that they are hard-pressed to get the notion that there will be no gain without some pain in select areas of their “throwaway” lifestyles. This holiday shopping season should, hopefully, give them a brief tutorial.

  5. steve c Avatar
    steve c

    I am convinced that the oil companies will keep prices low until plans for more efficient cars and alternative energy sources derail (we have very short term memories). Once they get sales moving again on SUVs they will raise prices.

  6. TimothyB Avatar

    Investigate oil futures is all I can say. I could be wrong but supply and demand plus a very healthy dose of financial oil speculation drove up the price of to to$147…But then again, I could be wrong and the oil companies may have set the price of oil that high.

    With that said, “peak oil” is upon us and we are now on the downslide of the easy and acceptable oil extraction. And viable alternative energy for commercial purposes is still quite a ways off in the future. You can take my theories/thoughts/speculation for what they are. So right now my concerns are what do we do while we are in the “tween” period. Do we wait for alternative energy to solve our problems and severely limit drilling and exploration? Do we continue to explore and pump more oil while waiting for wind, solar, nuclear and hydrogen power? I don’t have the answer but someone needs to make a decision and not just say “we should”. Once the decision is made we stick to it unless something drastic happens.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The current situation can’t continue. I read many refineries are fetching less now for a barrel of refined gasoline than the cost of the crude that produces it.

    The only reason they don’t cut production is because it is so expensive to do that, but they will if this lasts much longer.

  8. vickif Avatar

    The banks that finance the purchase of barrels are struggling. It had to happen. The people they were helping to bleed for gasoline dollars are those who cannot afford to pay their mortgages now. So they were financing a business (oil) that was hinged on the success of another business they were invested in (mortgages).

    They, we, everyone, needs to start depending less on fossil fuels. The market may have been swayed by this combination of factors, but it won’t last long. If banks can predict that oil purchases will increase again, that means demand will dictate prices. They will go up, and drilling will continue to be a threat.

    Obama said he recognizes that the rise and fall of prices on oil have created a pettern. He has seen that when prices go down people take their eye off the ball. We need to keep up efforts to bring sustainable energy to fruition. If we lapse back into the mind set that cheap gas is means everything is all right, we will regret it, and this time sooner rather than later.

  9. Layton Avatar

    Just curious here —- would someone please tell me just WHAT form of “alternative” energy would be acceptable to the majority of folks on this blog??

    I’ve seen wind, nuclear, oceans, hydro, and solar ALL get condemned for one reason or another — does ANY form of energy get a favorable nod??

  10. john weis Avatar
    john weis


    I am fine with wind, love solar, geothermal rocks, nuclear works but I would prefer until the pebble bed reactors become commercial, hydro I am fine with except for those dams that kill salmon runs then screw ’em, and coal could work if, IF, they really can stick the CO2 in the earth under a rock dome and it would not bubble up in the next 20 years.

    But regular coal use has got to go, as does natural gas, and anything else we burn without controlling CO2 release. In a nutshell, we have to become an electricity grid culture and obtain that electricity from non-greenhouse gas emitting sources.

    Good enuf??

  11. vickif Avatar


    I used to feel that way too. What I have concluded is this:
    We have to use the most efficient energy that causes the least amount of negative impact possible. People demand energy, and many won;t agree in which types are good to use…but most with a brain would reach the conclusion that less carbon and mining is much preferred to oil and coal.

  12. Bonnie Avatar

    I pretty much agree with John Weis’ list, except I would probably put nuclear ahead of geothermal simply because I don’t think there are enough controls in place to utilize geothermal without destroying the sources. (Look at New Zealand.) I also think that many times people forget about the other half of the equation; conservation. We need to get a lot better at using the energy we have. I’m in Chicagoland and a year ago, there were probably 2 full size pickups or SUVs on the road for every passenger car and I include the big gas sucking Caddies and limos in the car classification. I’m an ex-farm girl, so I know that there are times when you simply need a pickup or truck, but at least 60% of those SUVs and pickups never leave the pavement and never haul cargo bigger than a couple of sacks of potting mix. As gas prices went up, the number of big vehicles came down slightly, maybe 60% of the vehicles are not cars, but a lot of people have a real short memory. Gas prices are down and Ford, GMC, and Dodge are making real great deals for their full size vehicles, so I expect the number of behemoths will go back up. What can we do to convince the typical suburban couple with their 1.5 kids, that they don’t need an Escalade to take the kids to school and soccer practice?

  13. vickif Avatar

    What can we do? Add a fuel tax to their purchase. Make hybrid suv’s more affordable, pound it into people’s heads that environmentally friendly is fashionable and better for them, give an annual tax credit for those who use hybrid’s (used, new, theirs for ten years is great-we should encourage it.) Or we can simply wait for six months until gas prices surge again and listen to the boo-hoo about how we have to help them out because they are now broke from buying a vehicle that guzzles fuel.

  14. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    On the thread about how the GOP could green itself, the initial article I posted suggested that energy taxes could be very desirable replacements for other taxes, as long as they were not additions to them. Conservatives should in principle support this because it does not increase the bite from the government.

    Of course, the Republican Party as it exists right now would never support this because they are so tied to the energy industry as it exists today.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I should add that right now is the time to increase the gasoline tax — while gas is $1.80 to $2.00/gal

  16. jimbob Avatar

    Count me as a believer that with the downfall of the credit market (people investing in oil without real capital using margin) the price of oil had to decrease. Vickif pointed it out above and I agree. Hopefully, this “bailout” crap won’t allow oil companies to gouge us again and everybody will have a long memory. We need to push for alternatives now while the price is low and they can’t gouge us for every last nickel while we look to put the oil companies out of business.

  17. JB Avatar


    Those who have condemned wind and solar on this blog generally oppose large production facilities, not the forms of energy themselves. In other words, they prefer small, local, even individualized power generation over massive solar and wind plants. I agree; if we are forced to produce all (or most) of the energy that we consume, you can be sure we will be a whole hell of a lot more stingy with our use. Of course, the politicians will hate this course of action because it will favor “green” companies that produce solar panels and small-scale wind generation as opposed to their good friends in the energy industry.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Alternative energy is going to have to be government subsidized now because any new energy generation facilities have become problematic with the capital markets frozen.

    People may say the market should rule, but the government has always tilted the market in favor of traditional energy

    The oil industry has received favor after favor from production to end use.

    I think Obama is counting on alternative energy expenditures as one of the economic stimulii he will push.

  19. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
    Peter Kiermeir

    $ 1,75 for a gallon! Over here in Germany, a gallon is at the moment at about $ 5,70 down from about 7,30 this summer. Our government was never reluctant to impose taxes on gas. Currently there are three different, the general tax on petroleum products, an additional “green tax” and, of course, the VAT.

  20. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    The difference in price is incredible, however, in the United States, there is a national tax on gasoline too. In addition, each state imposes their own gas tax.

  21. Layton Avatar


    “In other words, they prefer small, local, even individualized power generation over massive solar and wind plants.”

    Some folks might “prefer” the small, maybe even individual, method of producing power — but is that even practical??

    The infrastructure for this kind of power production would be enormous, and redundant. It seems to me that just that reason would be enough to make this means of solving the energy crisis ineffective. There HAS to be some sort of a central way to produce large quantities of (probably) electricity —- doesn’t there??

  22. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    There has to be some, probably a lot of centralized energy generation; but today, unfortunately, from the start the assumption is that energy, old or alternative, will be produced at some remote location and transported in some fashion to populated areas.

    Any relatively big facility increases the damage done by failure, and it needs to be guarded.

    I understand these desert solar farms must be kept sterile of plant and animal life and fenced with no unauthorized admittance. Is this much better than a nuclear power plant?

    Maybe just a little.

    Maybe not when you consider how much carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere when they scraped away thousands of acres of topsoil.

  23. JB Avatar


    Actually, it’s very practical. A significant amount of power is lost in transport, thus generating power on site actually increases our efficiency. Moreover, with rampant suburban/exurbanization we’ll need to put up more lines to serve more people; this type of infrastructure is costly to erect and maintain. Communities, or better yet, individual homes that produce their own power will save us from having to build and maintain this costly infrastructure. Localized power production will also make us less vulnerable to an attack from the pesky terrorists everyone is so worried about.

  24. Layton Avatar

    What I mean by things being redundant is — for instance, John Doe builds a solar/hydro/wind plant for his own use, it needs wires, towers, rectifiers, some sort of storage medium, etc.

    EVERY John Doe needs the same equipment — more raw materials, more extractive industry required, etc.

    Then, if there is surplus power from this home grown facility, if it is to be utilized, there has to be a way to get it to the main grid — more duplication.

    If it all happens at a central site, where the grid IS, it seems to me that there would be better utilization of the components required to make the power usable.

    Just an idea – no peer review – probably won’t work.

  25. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    There is good evidence that small wind-electricity generators are less efficient the big ones. Small ones are also harder on birds.

    Thousands of individual windmills would also suffer from lack of capacity and excess capacity.

    My idea for wind-generation would be perhaps one big one for every 10,000 household (or their equivalent).

    So instead of 500 of them on a remote mountain ridge, how about 10 in Pocatello for a city that size?

  26. JB Avatar


    Ideally, judgments (based on a cost-benefit analysis) would be made on a case-by-case basis. For example, I have a friend in Utah who moved to an area where there were no power lines. The city told him it would cost $60,000 to bring power out to where he lived. Instead, he put up solar panels and a small windmill and augments with a generator when he needs extra power (he’s now off the grid and not subject to swings in energy prices). Exurban and other small, isolated communities are prime candidates for the kind of power generation Ralph mentions.

    Other problems are the result of inadequate building regulations. Builders in my home town in Michigan have been giving the customers what they want–the biggest and cheapest housed possible. To get there, the builders skimp on materials that could make the home more energy efficient (and save the homeowner money in the long run). In the end, people end up heating and cooling more square footage in a poorly constructed and insulated home, wasting lots of energy.

    There are other technologies (e.g. earth-sheltered homes) that could make an enormous dent in heating and cooling, but aren’t used because of out-of-date codes and silly ideas about what homes should look like.

    My argument is that a “fix” to the energy problem shouldn’t just be to allow power companies to build more giant mass generation facilities, but involve a concerted effort to make smart choices using an array of technologies on different scales.

  27. vickif Avatar

    I watch and read a lot about how to make your home more energy efficient. They can use so many waste products to better insulate homes (olds jeans, straw, some composts…). Adobe has always been efficient. Chicago is placing gardens on roof tops to aid in air quality while providing excellent insulation and lowering costs for heat/cooling.
    They are developing new small turbines that are tubular in shape. They are more bird friendly. (Let’s remember how hard car grills are on birds, we have to wigh the cost vs the benefits.) They are also figuring out how to make attic fans produce small amounts of electricity, and how to use heat from fire places and appliances to heat water too.
    Solar panels do require materials, no doubt, but they also have longevity. Solar tiles are being developed. Solar everything is being developed…
    I see it more as, what practical changes can we make because a lot of small improvements add up to a huge difference. Household energy suckers, like lights, appliances, and bad insulation are easy to change, easy to redesign, and more cost effective for many people. Make governments buildings use solar to heat water, and provide part of electric. Have government service vehicles be hybrids (like some donated Priuses in YNP), save on fuel, give someone a job manufacturing them, and use less oil.

    If we make small changes to a lot of things, we can get a lot accomplished. There are so many things we can do as individuals, that has to be part of the frame work.

    We also need new standards for manufacturing goods (regulate green house gases more closely at manufacturing plants), we need to make appliances, electronics, and many other things, be rated and approved for green effect…like the USDA with drugs and foods.

    And, as above…no more huge plants, diversify (like with your stock portfolio) energy, but solidify regulations on all of it.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan