Opinion

Gas crises aren’t a new phenomenon

“As Gas Prices Rise, Frustrations Mount FUELING ANGER,” was the headline at the top of the front page the other day.

The story told of drivers shopping for the cheapest gasoline in Seattle so they could buy just enough to drive to Tacoma and fill up where it was cheaper.

Anger, frustration, fear of how much worse it’s going to get before it gets better. If it gets better.

Well, if you think this is bad, don’t forget what happened in the 1970s. Then-Labor Secretary George Shultz warned in 1970 of a manufactured crisis in the oil industry. The industry, he said, was capable of producing a crisis simply by shutting off supplies.

When the crisis arrived in 1973, with long lines at the gas stations and prices soaring, legislative and congressional hearings were held asking why.

Lack of refineries, said the oil folks. Domestic reserves were running out but the low price paid for gasoline discouraged exploration for new reserves.

Natural gas, their competitor, was oversold and under priced so many large fuel users were switching from oil. More people were driving more cars and getting less milage to the gallon because of anti-pollution devices.

The average driver, however, smelled a rat in the fact the courts had just held up an extension of the Alaska pipeline and suspicion was the fuel shortage and price hikes were to get the pipeline through along with resumption of offshore drilling.

Service stations started shutting down nights and weekends. Energy czar William Simon suggested all stations shut down on weekends and people limit themselves to 10 gallons a week.

What a maroon.

It got worse in the fall of 1973, when Arab oil producers imposed a total ban on sales to the U.S. after outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war.

Now gas was really scarce.

Government officials recommended people not top their tanks off but wait until they were down to a quarter of a tank. Were they kidding?

You could waste that much just driving around looking for an open station. I once sat in line for half an hour until the operator put a “Last Car for Gas” sign on the back of the car in front of me.

When the ferry system just about ran out of diesel fuel, the federal fuel chief refused to grant more because, he said, he regarded ferries as an extension of the highways and you don’t give fuel to highways.

A hasty new ruling declared ferries a mass transit system.

Lawmakers learned, to their chagrin, that oil companies had phased out 170 stations in the state with marginal operations. That meant that former customers of those stations had shifted to other stations, adding to the line-ups, but it seemed a mystery as to where the gas went that would have gone to the closed stations.

Oil companies said it was still coming into the state but not necessarily the area it formerly went to, thus creating area shortages.

Not everybody believed that. Idaho and Oregon seemed to have plenty of gasoline.Why didn’t we?

In February, 1974, Gov. Dan Evans announced that he had secured a special supply of 4.2 million gallons over and above the allotment for the state.

But where was it?

It turned out the gubernatorial gas was coming in through the Yellowstone pipeline and terminating at Moses Lake, where the distributor was a wholesaler who had two stations in Washington and four in Oregon.

A legislative staffer trailed one of the wholesaler’s trucks all the way from Moses Lake to Umatilla, Ore., and found a half-million gallons of our gas had gone south before it could be stopped.

We didn’t get it back.

Anyway, the Arabs lifted the ban in 1974, the Alaska pipeline and offshore drilling resumed and things got better.

We made it then. We’ll make it now. We always do.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA., 98340.

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