Commonwealth Journal


December 29, 2011

is Gas Price Rollercoaster ready to roll?

Rumblings in Mideast a reminder of the past

Somerset — We haven’t heard anything official yet, but Iran’s threat this week to block the Strait of Hormuz was an uncomfortable reminder of the early 1970s when an Arab boycott caused a nationwide gasoline shortage.

Even the possibility –– the U.S. Government initially declined comment –– a threat to shut off one-fifth of the world’s oil supply makes Big Oil nervous, and those folks calm their jitters by raising the price of oil. Oil topped $100 a barrel after the threat.

And, with that happening, before you can say “fill’er’up,” gasoline at the pump likely will jump in price. It goes up in generous increments, but the price comes down a stingy penny at the time.

 The narrow Strait of Hormuz is considered one of the most, if not the most strategic strait of water on the planet. Through its waters, in giant ocean-going tankers, passes much of the oil from Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

  Bordered by Iran, Oman's Musandam Peninsula and the United Arab Emirates, this stretch of water is of obvious military significance, and subsequently, the U.S. Navy and others patrol its waters.

  Iran allegedly has said it will block the strait if the U.S. and others attempt to stop its sale of oil as part of increased sanctions in an attempt to halt the country’s nuclear ambitions.

  Most folks in their middle age remember gasoline shortages during the early 1970s. The scarcity was caused both by an Arab boycott and U.S. government regulations, including price controls.

  Many service stations closed because of the shortage and stations with lights on sometimes had empty pumps. At one point, motorists were only allowed to buy 10 gallons at any stop. Prices at the pump, ranging from 43 cents a gallon for regular to 47 cents for ethyl, were beginning a rise that eventually would top $4 a gallon.

  Gasoline shortages during the 1970s were not unprecedented. Thirty years earlier, during World War II, strict gasoline rationing made it almost impossible to fill your tank. Nationwide gasoline rationing went into effect November 1, 1942.

  Nonessential drivers got an “A” book, limiting them to 32 gallons over a two-month period.

  Motorists with essential occupations got a “B” book that allowed them to drive 470 miles a month if they could prove they were members of a car-sharing club.

  A “C” book was given to most-essential drivers, those involved in war industries.

  Worse, at least it would seem so, there was a nationwide speed limit of 35 miles an hour. That’s right, 35 miles an hour designed to save both gasoline and wear and tear on tires. Today’s interstate and parkway speed limit is 70 mph, apparently meaning if you go slower you’ll likely get run over.

  Before the war, during the 1930s, gasoline sold for 17 cents a gallon. It was 25 cents a gallon during the 1950s, and, all the while, an attendant would check the oil, wipe the windshield and give you a starter on a set of dishes.

  At today’s self-service pumps, a photograph of a state trooper stares as you pump. A printed reminder says if you pump and run, your driver’s license will be revoked.

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