ENERGY: The Arabs' New Oil Squeeze: Dimouts, Slowdowns, Chills

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The President's message stirred an immediate response. New Jersey reduced speeds on its major tollways from 60 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h., and California cut its freeway limits from 70 m.p.h. to 65 m.p.h. Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island all ordered driving speeds for state-owned vehicles held to 50 m.p.h. Companies also took steps toward conservation. The Coca-Cola Co. shut off all lighted outdoor advertising signs and urged independent bottlers in 50 cities to follow its lead. Sears, Roebuck & Co. ordered temperatures in its stores lowered to 68° and eliminated all Christmas lighting.

Cleveland and Memphis have had to reduce their bus services. In Alexandria, Va., schools ended their practice of keeping lights on all night to discourage vandals. To save heat, schools in Lee, Mass., and West Hartford, Conn., are working on plans to close for a month during December and January. To guarantee heat for their houses, consumers rushed out to buy wood-burning stoves and electric saws. One farmer who will not be touched by scarcities is Dick Shuttleworth, who lives near Muncie, Ind. He has put together a Rube Goldberg contraption that transforms his plentiful supply of manure into methane gas, which powers his lights, refrigerator and even his Ford pickup.

The nation's economy faces a tough test. Unless the boycott ends soon, some factories will have to close, either for lack of heat, a paucity of fuel to run machines or shortages of petroleum-based raw materials as disparate as chemicals, plastics and textiles. Says Associate U.S. Budget Director John Sawhill: "Sure, the Government can ration oil, but we could wind up rationing steel, aluminum and other things as well." Evaporating gasoline supplies could put a further painful dent in auto sales; car sales in October fell 11.4%. Less travel, the result of diminished auto traffic and cuts in airline schedules, will hurt hotels, restaurants and the producers of such leisure goods as motor homes and snowmobiles.

There could also be some startling shifts in income in different regions of the U.S. The rush to find new oil deposits in the Southwest and West could fuel booms in those regions. But the East Coast stands to suffer. More dependent on Arab oil than the rest of the country, the highly industrialized region from Boston to Washington might have to chug along on only about 75% of its usual petroleum supply. The full impact of the shutoff is expected in about three weeks, when the last of the shipments from the Persian Gulf are unloaded at American ports. To stretch available oil stocks through the winter, U.S. refineries are already scaling down output, and suppliers are starting to ration petroleum products to their customers. The energy drought could lead to a decline in industrial production and rising unemployment, which could pitch the U.S. economy into a recession. Reacting to just those fears, the stock market suffered its worst one-day plunge since Black Monday, May 28, 1962; last Friday the Dow Jones industrials tumbled 24 points, closing at 908.

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