Hey, Bill, What Happened to Lower Gas Prices?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Road-tripping Americans are standing aghast at the pump: Why, they are thinking, after all that high-level OPEC maneuvering, are gas prices back on the upswing? That's a good question, and if you know the answer, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson will take your call right now. In March, when OPEC increased daily oil output by 1.7 million barrels, the car-driving public — and the Clinton administration officials, wary of a cranky electorate — breathed a sigh of relief; by the time we set out on our summer vacations, analysts assured us, gas prices will have settled into a far more affordable groove. But here we are, just a few days before the start of the Memorial Day weekend, paying at least $1.50 per gallon, up from $1.40 at the beginning of the month and within a penny of the year-to-date high recorded in March. Not exactly what anyone had hoped for.

So what happened? No one knows for sure, but for starters, says TIME national economics correspondent Adam Zagorin, the U.S. economy has not cooled at the rate many economists had hoped — and with a madly successful economy comes an astronomical rate of energy consumption. That demand, of course, means higher prices. And given the parched state of America's oil stocks before OPEC's March breakthrough, explains Zagorin, we remain highly susceptible to any unexpected cutbacks or shortages. When OPEC meets again in June, Secretary Richardson will be there to urge another oil production increase, and if his demands are met, the administration predicts gas prices will drop in time for foliage-gazing this autumn. That knowledge may be cold comfort to millions of Americans plotting their summertime getaways — and just think, the delay could cost Gore's campaign for the all-important Range Rover vote in November.