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What's the true cost of gas?

People have been complaining about high gas prices lately, but in reality, Americans are getting quite a bargain. What's the true price of gas?

This video from the Center for Investigative Reporting attempts to answer the question.

The true effect of overly low cost of gasoline in this country over the past several decades has been to encourage the kind of development where cars are the only way to get around. And that means we need to buy a lot of gas, which makes us sensitive to its retail price.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Heís a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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The true price of gas is $1 per gallon. Everything else is government BS.

by JAY on Jun 19, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

Awesome video! Gas should be $10 a gallon, and then everyone would get out of their cars and onto transit.

by Kevin on Jun 19, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

As important as externalities are, I don't think this video did a very good job of explaining anything, and if you want to blame cheap gas for sprawl, I'd venture it was a smaller factor than you might propose.

by @SamuelMoore on Jun 19, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

This video oversimplifies everything. And if we "correct" the price of gas, let's "correct" the prices of all consumer goods which keep our economy pumping. Do you think there might be any effect?

by mch on Jun 19, 2011 3:54 pm • linkreport

The video short changes the costs even more. How much does it cost to maintain a severly wounded soldier from Iraq? How do we tabulate the costs of thousands of young soldiers suffering from PTSD in lost productivity? How much does maintaining and expanding the highway system? The larger a country and economy we are, the harder to switch directions, but also the harder we'll fall if we don't get serious about rebuilding our rail infrastructure. It might not seem to make a lot of sense now that we've built most of our country to work on 2 cars a family, but we're projected to grow a lot more in the next 50 years. If we start now with revamping and expanding rail, both passenger and freight, the growth will be focused on the government sponsored rail. Obviously it will be both, but I'm speaking to the imbalance in spending. Government sponsored highways or government sponsored railways, it's a form of socialism either way but one alows our capitalist economy to thrive while the otherone leads to a dead end in a cul-de-sac.

by Thayer-D on Jun 20, 2011 8:00 am • linkreport

Would have been nice for the video to include a list of sources. The National Academy of Sciences recently published "Hidden Costs of Energy" ( maybe they used that study, maybe they didn't, but having "According to the National Academy of Sciences..." in the video would make the whole thing more credible.

by LoLo on Jun 20, 2011 8:00 am • linkreport

The video isn't saying not to use gas just that the cost it is set at is probably too low. Spending more for things isn't necessarily bad if it's done locally, for example. At some point, we need to shift from a petroleum-based economy, making gas more expensive just might be the way to do it before it's too late.

by Randall M. on Jun 20, 2011 8:04 am • linkreport

Interesting video - LoLo, at the bottom of the article linked on the page there is a script annotated with citations for each claim. I haven't had time to review it extensively, but the few I looked at seem to be pretty solid.

by Ryan S on Jun 20, 2011 8:12 am • linkreport

You have to wonder how much a train would cost to run at a $10/G price point.

I know trains are very fuel efficient, in terms of the tons, but they still drink a lot of diesel. And I suspect passengers trains use a lot of power for light/AC etc.

Gasoline is the $7 or $8 per gallon range in the UK. People still drive -- just not as much as in the US. Car ownership is lower and the average miles per year is about 9000K. However, that is the taxed price, not the real price. If the real price of gasoline or diesel got in the $10 range, I suspect our economy would collapse as we couldn't ship anything.

by charlie on Jun 20, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

Charlie: that's an easy one. Just use electrified trains, as Metro, Acela, and others do. Less than 1% of all electricity in the United States comes from petroleum. It's mostly coal & nuclear here in the east, and mostly hydro in the west.

by tom veil on Jun 20, 2011 9:20 am • linkreport

@Tom; I have a feeling turning transcontintnetal freight lines into electrified lines might be a tad expensive as well.

Promoting more dam building out west would also seem to be a horrible idea.

by charlie on Jun 20, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport

Electrifying the transcon mainlines would be expensive, but it's also the single-biggest low-hanging fruit to curb oil use.

There are no more major dam sites in the West anymore, either - unless you're proposing to dam the Grand Canyon. However, I don't think tom was promoting more dams, just using the ones we already have.

by Alex B. on Jun 20, 2011 9:42 am • linkreport

More than a few of the transcontinental freight lines were electrified. The cheap oil caused the wires to come down.. right around the time of the oil embargo.

by john G on Jun 20, 2011 9:51 am • linkreport

I think someone mentioned in a thread a few days ago that over 50% of rail traffic by tonnage is coal. I'd imagine that the price of gas would have a serious effect on the cost of energy.

But that's just another reason to design cities for non-motorized transportation and energy-efficient buildings.

by Neil Flanagan on Jun 20, 2011 9:54 am • linkreport

@john G

That's not quite true - there were a few electrified segments in the mountains, but there was no route fully electrified.

The wires came down as Diesels improved in performance and the multiple locomotive switches became unwieldy. Both the Great Northern and the Milwaukee Road had electric sections, but nothing that encompassed the entire line.

by Alex B. on Jun 20, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

@tom veil- you're leaving out natural gas, which is 23%. It's not imported from the middle east, but still.

Hydro is relatively small:

by ah on Jun 20, 2011 2:37 pm • linkreport

@Alex B
"unless you're proposing to dam the Grand Canyon"

yeah, umm... pretty sure we already did that.

by Doug on Jun 20, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport


We've dammed the Colorado River several times. We've not dammed the Grand Canyon. If we had, it would be the Grand Lake.

by Alex B. on Jun 20, 2011 3:44 pm • linkreport

"Awesome video! Gas should be $10 a gallon, and then everyone would get out of their cars and onto transit."

Congrats! You've just won the silliest comment of the day aaward.

How do you think transit gets its fuel? for free? If gas ever goes up to $10/gallon, how much of that increase do you think transit agencies will pay? None? Get real!

Do you know what transit agencies do when their costs go up, even a little? You guessed it! They REDUCE service and they RAISE Fares! Guess what happens when they do that? You guessed it again! People go back to driving!

Trust me. You don't want to see $10/gallon gas.

Just love when car-haters start the "make gas cost more so people will get out of their cars and onto transit" silliness. ROFLMAO!

by ceefer66 on Jun 20, 2011 5:18 pm • linkreport

That's a gross oversimplification at best, and a real strawman argument at worst.

It all depends on the reason that gas goes up to $10 a gallon. If you slap a $1/gallon tax on gas that goes straight into transit improvements, you'll see much better functioning transit that does get heavily utilized. Electrification (be it for heavy rail, light rail, subway, trolly, bus, etc) allows for diversification of fuel source and reduced costs.

by Ryan S on Jun 20, 2011 5:23 pm • linkreport

@ceefer66 needs to get a passport.

by oboe on Jun 20, 2011 6:53 pm • linkreport

Most of the people here need to get out of their jesuitical malthusian elitist ivy towers and 'good old boys' mindset, and mingle with the real people.

The entire spin is to guilt out people while distracting them to accept the status quo technologies and commodities

Google 'Rossi reactor' and ask why the MSM fails to do its job.

by Douglas Willinger on Jun 20, 2011 8:30 pm • linkreport

Most of the people here need to get out of their jesuitical malthusian elitist ivy towers and 'good old boys' mindset, and mingle with the real people.

We wouldn't have all these troubles if the Rotarians hadn't put the kaibosh on the proposed I-66 overpass through Dupont Circle, and the Outer Outer Beltway!

Google "rossi reactor...

From the wiki entry:

Unfavorable preliminary report on patentability at the World Intellectual Property Organization was given to to Rossi's patent application in 2008,[10] citing incompatibilities with current scientific theories, and not enough empirical evidence to surmount the theoretical problems.[56]...

Rossi and Focardi's joint work was rejected by [a] peer-reviewed scientific journal,[57] instead having to present it in Rossi's self-published blog, Journal of Nuclear Physics.[58]...

With their report on the April demonstrations,[29] Ny Teknik provided some analysis: according to Rossi, the heat is generated from an unknown reaction, which is, according to Essen and Kullander, probably nuclear. The concept of cold fusion, or low-energy nuclear reaction, has been mentioned, referring to a hypothesized reaction between hydrogen and nickel, producing copper. "Many physicists are skeptical," because fusion of nuclei requires very high temperatures, "according to current knowledge," and because "fusion should produce very high levels of gamma radiation."

As Ny Teknik reports, Peter Ekström, lecturer at the Department of Nuclear Physics at Lund University in Sweden, concluded, "I am convinced that the whole story is one big scam, and that it will be revealed in less than one year."[29]

Sounds promising! How would I mount this on my 1977 DeLorean?

by oboe on Jun 20, 2011 10:58 pm • linkreport

During the show, he addressed what he called "Low Energy Nuclear Reactions" as being the most interesting and promising alternative energy technology being developed. In fact, it was first on his list, ahead of salt water agriculture, cyanobacteria, energy conservation, geothermal power, nano-plastic solar panels, solar thermal concentrators, and high altitude wind power.

"The most interesting and promising [technology sector] at this point ... [is] low energy nuclear reactions."

Bushnell went on to say that LENR technology could potentially solve all of our energy and climate problems. He stated the technology could be used for any application, including to power rockets for space travel. It is quite refreshing to hear such positive statements, in support of cold fusion, from a mainstream, credible, and respected scientist!

Actually, I cannot think of any other scientist off the top of my head, that I would have rather made a statement in support of LENR (cold fusion). His extensive scientific background, career history, and status as a Chief NASA scientist make his supportive statements very significant. Hopefully, they will inspire other scientists to take LENR research seriously! I would like to hear a naysayer like Bob Park (who has attacked cold fusion researchers for 20 years) try to criticize him for his comments.

During the interview, Bushnell specifically mentioned Andrea Rossi's E-Cat (Energy Catalyzer) technology, and seemed very supportive of it. He reviewed the tests that have been performed and the large amount of excess heat produced. At one point he made a remark scientists across the world should notice...

"I think we are almost over the "we do not understand it" problem. I think we are almost over the "this does not produce anything useful" problem. I think this will go forward fairly rapidly now. If it does, this is capable of, by itself, completely changing geo-economics, geo-politics, and solving climate issues."

Despite his positive statements about LENR, he also made a few statements that indicate his lack of ability to admit that nuclear fusion at low temperatures could be a reality. He stated that all of the so called, "cold fusion" experiments performed over the last twenty years did not produce fusion reactions. His position is that they produced energy via a process called "Widom Larsen" theory, that does not involve fusion at all, but only "beta decay."


I-66 DuPont overpass?

Oboe- I can understand why you post under what apears to be an unreal name.

by Douglas Willinger on Jun 20, 2011 11:04 pm • linkreport

I spend much of my time debunking the free energy fantasies of my less technically competent friends. Wishful thinking makes many believe that cars can run on water after seeing a brief youtube video. Lately, however, I have been undergoing an exciting paradigm shift.

Remember the “cold fusion” fiasco of 1989? Well, I have come to realize that it wasn’t what it seemed at all. Denial, groupthink, dirty tricks and easily manipulated media combined to create an historical injustice. Two decades have been wasted virtually ignoring this game-changing discovery. Today’s environmental disasters, expensive energy and oil wars could possibly have been avoided. I’ll say more in a moment about what really happened in 1989, but first, let me tell you what got me started reexamining what I thought I knew about cold fusion.

You probably think that 4700 watts of clean, radiation-free power from a three cubic inch reactor sounds like yet another impossible hoax. But this was a third iteration demo, designed to satisfy skeptics of two previous demonstration at the prestigious University of Bologna. Attending the third demo were two Swedish scientists. One was chairman of the Swedish Skeptics Society and the other was chairman of the Energy Committee of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science. They were both allowed to freely examine the entire setup except for the contents of the tiny, 50cc reactor chamber.

Their written report ended with: “Any chemical process for producing 25 kWh from any fuel in a 50 cm3 container can be ruled out. The only alternative explanation is that there is some kind of a nuclear process that gives rise to the measured energy production.” They also noted that you would have to burn 3 liters of oil to produce 25 kWh. There has since been another confirmation.

The inventor, Adrian Rossi, is very accessible on his blog and has said that more than one hundred of his 4.4 kW reactors are running in four countries. He plans to ship a larger unit in October that produces one MW of hot water. It consists of hundreds of the small reactors in series/parallel mounted in one 2 X 3 X 3 meter box. It weighs two tons. The proprietary nanopowdered nickel fuel will be replenished every six months. Everything has been financed using Rossi’s own money and the customer will pay only when satisfied.

Rossi is an inventor and businessman who decades ago noticed excess heat effects while working with a nickel catalyst to synthesize fuel from hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Using Edison-like experimental techniques, he soon learned to control the heat production. He even kept his factory heated for two years with a prototype reactor. More than two thousand prototypes were built and destroyed in refining the design and learning how to control and scale up the reaction.

Researching the science literature, Rossi soon found Dr Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna, who had regularly published work on nickel-hydrogen reactors since 1994. Using his own money, Rossi contracted with Dr. Focardi and the university to help him understand and develop the technology as a product. By January 14, 2011 they were ready for a public demonstration of a 10 kilowatt desktop reactor.

The press reaction was muted in Europe and nonexistent in the U.S. Skeptics accused him of hiding a battery inside the reactor so another, longer, demonstration was held, using calorimetry that heated but didn’t boil water to answer other critics. The 18 hour demonstration produced 18 kilowatts average over the entire 18 hours. The U.S. press was still silent and skeptics were still suspicious so two more demos were held.

Still, the silence from the U.S. media was deafening. Rossi announced that there will be no more demonstrations until October 2011, when the million watt heating plant will be shipped to a customer in Greece. If he succeeds, be prepared for a repeat of the Sputnik shock of 1957 when the US woke up to find that they had fallen way behind in science.

Nickel is plentiful and cheap and so is hydrogen in the tiny amounts used. Nickel is so plentiful that energy becomes virtually free. Rossi’s reactor is very simple in principle. Powdered nickel and a catalyst are simply heated to about six hundred degrees centigrade in a stainless steel chamber filled with pressurized hydrogen. At a certain point, the gradual heating starts accelerating due to nuclear reactions in the metal lattice. The heating resistor is backed off to keep the reaction going at a steady state, with about 15 times more heat output than input. Much higher ratios are possible but can be unstable and dangerous. This is why the 1-MW plant will be built using hundreds of smaller modules.

The reactor is enclosed in a lead shield because some radiation is, unpredictably, produced during operation. However, the spent fuel is not radioactive but contains copper that has transmuted from nickel in the nuclear reaction. The lack of dangerous radiation drives hot fusion experts crazy, but clearly there are things happening that are not covered by the equations used in hot fusion. Obviously, quantum mechanics needs to be rethought to include these reactions.

There are many proposed theories. Biological processes have been found to produce transmuted isotopes without radiation. Also, tritium sometimes comes out of volcanic vents from unknown reactions inside the earth. Clearly, the physicists have more to explain if they will just open their ears. Here is an equation they should study carefully:

Groupthink + Denial = Environmental Disaster + Expensive Energy + Wars


by Douglas Willinger on Jun 20, 2011 11:21 pm • linkreport

Oboe- I can understand why you post under what apears to be an unreal name.

Yes, there are some scary people on the Internets.

by oboe on Jun 20, 2011 11:43 pm • linkreport

From your standpoint as status quo defender, sure.

by Douglas Willinger on Jun 20, 2011 11:50 pm • linkreport

Just to be clear, I think a breakthrough in practical cold fusion technology (or LENR, since the term "cold fusion" was irreparably damaged by the last generation of pseudo-scientific Italian con artistes) would revolutionize the way we live. But you're not counting chickens before they're hatched here--you're counting chickens before they've evolved from their junglefowl ancestors.

The Slashdot reaction to the Rossi "breakthrough" was characteristically entertaining, though:

Those guys fell from the fraud tree and hit every single branch on the way down:

- Created their own, "serious sounding" journal for publication
- Do not disclose the actual device they claim to have been running
- Do not allow independent observation of the experiment
- Experiment is an open system (making it SO easy to fake)
- Making totally implausible claims that would be too much even if it DID work.

Not only have they yet to prove they did any kind of fusion, they also would not produce energy with the process they claim to do even if they were doing it (trans-iron fusion is not exothermic).

And the really stupid thing is that there will be tons of "sceptics" that have no fucking clue about science that will eat up their claims just because they are "anti-established science". Wankers.

More here:

Thanks, this whole story was completely below my radar. I always get a kick out of this kind of thing!

by oboe on Jun 21, 2011 12:00 am • linkreport

If it's so 'completely below your radar, why are you throwing up a list of generally anonymous comments while ignoring the Swedish skeptics society and the NASA scientist?

The economic implications are most considerable.

We already know we have a mercantilist government with the war on certain drugs, the cigarette-pharma-alcohol market protection, without any need to know physics.

Yet you imagine that there is no corruption with the government polices of near unlimited funding of the 5 sided welfare queen on the Potomac for wars to protect oil, its immense interest in surveillance and no interest in civil defense?!

by Douglas Willinger on Jun 21, 2011 1:13 am • linkreport

There's a thin line between that which is true, and that which we fervently want to be true. It's not always obvious where that line is. I'll keep the cork in the champagne for the time being, Swedish skeptics notwithstanding.

by oboe on Jun 21, 2011 8:31 am • linkreport

@ceefer66 needs to get a passport.
by oboe on Jun 20, 2011 6:53 pm


$5 my passport has more stamps than yours.

BYW, "Why can't we be like Europe?" shows your naivtee.
REALLY informed people understand why we're not.

End of discussion.

by ceefer66 on Jun 21, 2011 7:14 pm • linkreport

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