SUPPLY: Facing the Shortage Alone

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While gasoline lines are growing longer and local rationing plans are proliferating in the U.S., fears of a disastrous scarcity of oil are fading rapidly in most of the rest of the world. To many Americans, that contrast must suggest the suspicion that the energy crisis is something that is occurring only in America. Unhappily, it is more than a suspicion: the U.S. does in fact seem now to be bearing almost the entire burden of the world oil-supply shortage.

Some figures from the Federal Energy Office sketch the situation. In January, Energy Czar William E. Simon told the recent 13-nation Washington energy conference, world oil production ran at 46.2 million bbl. per day, or 1.6 million bbl. below September, the last month before the Arab production cutbacks. FEO figures also indicate that January oil imports to the U.S. fell 1.14 million bbl. per day below September. The obvious conclusion, though Simon himself did not draw it, is that the U.S. is suffering around three-fourths of the world petroleum shortfall. Supplies available to be imported by other oil-consuming countries have dropped by a scarcely noticeable 400,000 bbl. per day—though, to be sure, that leaves no margin to take care of any increase in demand. So far this month, oil shipments to the U.S. have continued to fall steadily.

Visitors from Europe these days are astonished by the length of U.S. gasoline lines. European nations like The Netherlands and Sweden, which briefly adopted gasoline rationing, have now abandoned it, and some are dropping other fuel-conservation measures as well. West German officials, for example, decided last week to discontinue a 62-m.p.h. speed limit on the autobahns.

In Japan, which has almost no oil of its own, the fuel crisis is waning also as imports increase. The Tokyo government, which had decreed a 15% reduction in fuel supplies to industry, last week ordered the cutback eased to 10% starting March 1.

Nimble Shifts. Certainly the U.S. might be expected to bear a disproportionate share of the shortages caused by Arab oil-production cutbacks: the Arab oil states, which once supplied a pivotal 11% of the petroleum burned in America, have placed the U.S. under a total export embargo. Yet The Netherlands is under a similar embargo, and oil companies have switched shipments around nimbly enough to keep that country well supplied. For example, Saudi Arabian oil that usually goes to Dutch refineries has been redirected to Le Havre in France, and non-Arab Iranian oil that normally was shipped to France has been shunted to Rotterdam. Recently Rotterdam was so jammed with tankers that some had to be sent to Antwerp in Belgium to unload. The oil companies, which are mostly headquartered in America, apparently have not been similarly diverting non-Arab oil to the U.S.; critics suspect that they actually have been routing some shipments away from the U.S.

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