Writing Center
Spring 2006 Edition

Is southern Utah prepared for higher gas prices?

Brett Shumway
Expository 2010 2nd Place

Everyone in the United States has felt the squeeze from high gas prices; however, in recent years certain factors such as natural disasters and war have caused the cost of petroleum to come to an all time high.  This has been a source of debate and controversy in this country, one that has caused many citizens to question what the future holds.  Those that can’t afford high gas prices are left with a huge economic dilemma, but more than just a higher cost to drivers: experts say that a rise in the price of petroleum will eventually raise the cost of everything else.  Luckily, the price of 85 octane gasoline has leveled off at about $2.30 per gallon.  For now, Americans are becoming complacent with what they have to pay, but what happens when gas rises above 3, 4, or even 5 dollars per gallon?  Can the average middle class consumer afford it, or is there an alternative fuel that could be used in the place of gasoline?

People in small communities are among the first to be adversely affected by higher fuel prices.  If fuel prices continue to rise in the United States citizens in small communities such as Cedar City will be negatively impacted; more specifically it will affect students, the elderly, and other people living on low incomes.  Some preventative measures must be taken in order to protect normal life.  If not, at some future date people might not be able to afford simple things such as driving to work, and life as we know it would change.

Over the years gas prices have risen and fallen, and when the price gets too high the government steps in by causing gas to be rationed or, as in recent years, by opening the national fuel reserve.  So far, the government’s measures have helped to somewhat stabilize gas prices; however, many are concerned that government efforts have not gone far enough.  A common concern among Utahans is the thought of what would happen if gasoline becomes unaffordable.

Many students that attend Southern Utah University live far enough off campus that they have to drive to school.  Many of them also have to drive to work.  The cost of gasoline as it is now makes those commutes costly, and if gas prices continue to rise, the daily commutes that SUU students make could become too costly and unmanageable.  Aaron Adams, a junior at SUU, lives in Parowan and commutes to Cedar City almost every day for school and work.  He says that even though gas prices have gone down in recent months, he still spends thirty to forty dollars a week in gasoline.  To a student living on a tight budget, that much money is a large part of his income, and if gas prices continue to rise he is afraid that he will not be able to afford to go to school.

Living on a tight budget is not uncommon for students at Southern Utah University, with tuition now at about $1,800 for one semester, housing costs constantly rising, and the gamut of other expenses that SUU students have to pay; it is no wonder that the price of gas is a concern.  If gas prices shoot up again, many students like Aaron Adams will have a hard time finding an affordable way to get to school.  Given that public transportation is virtually nonexistent in the Cedar City area, transportation is a common concern for the average SUU student.    

Of course, students are not the only ones that would be adversely affected by higher gas prices.  Many elderly people live on very fixed incomes and are not prepared to handle ballooning gas prices.  If prices continue to rise, these people will be forced to take money from other parts of their budgets in order to pay the higher cost of gasoline.  Furthermore, experts predict that with higher fuel costs we will see higher shipping costs that will in turn drive up the cost of everything else for consumers.  Therefore, higher gas prices affect both the elderly that drive and those that do not drive. 

More than just students and the elderly, higher gas prices would affect the average middle class consumer.  With existing prices already squeezing the average consumer, many fear that another increase would make things unendurable.  Jed Burnett lives in Cedar City and works in Saint George.  He recently had to trade in his pick-up truck for a smaller compact car because the cost of gasoline was becoming too expensive.  “I was working almost an entire day just to pay for the gas I used in a week”, says Burnett.  Now that prices have leveled out and he drives a more fuel efficient car, he does not have to worry as much about the cost of gas; however, he fears that gas prices, “can only go up from here”.  Stories such as this are common, and represent the concerns of many people living in southern Utah.  

Many in southern Utah are concerned that the lack of public transportation in the Cedar City area could become an insurmountable problem if gas prices became completely unaffordable.  Some are concerned about the effect the current war and other political unrest in the world are going to have on US oil prices.  Furthermore, economists are predicting that countries such as China and India, which are already using more oil than they ever have in the past, will continue to use increasingly larger portions of the world’s oil causing prices to rise even more in the future.  All these factors combined make it obvious that something must change.

Advocates of alternative fuel sources say that the answer is in the research and large scale implementation of alternative fuel sources.  In fact, many experts say that the answer can be found in corn.  That is, E85 ethanol, which is a blend of 85% ethanol made from corn and 15% gasoline.  This is a renewable source of fuel that is better for the environment than gasoline and improves performance because it has a higher octane rating than gasoline, which allows higher horsepower and torque.  GM has already produced 1.5 million vehicles that can run on either E85 ethanol or gasoline, and gas stations all over the country are beginning to place E85 ethanol pumps alongside the traditional gasoline pumps (“E85 the 411”).  Proponents feel this is the type of proactive thinking that will prevent United States citizens from being negatively affected by future increases in oil costs.

Rand Bettridge, owner of KB Oil, agrees that providing an alternative to gasoline is important.  When asked how hard it would be for Cedar City to switch to an alternative fuel, he responded that, “plans to provide an alternative fuel in Cedar City have been in the works for years; however, the main problem stopping progress has been that there just are not enough farmers growing corn to make products like E85 ethanol”.  He also stated that propane is currently available at the pumps in Cedar City, and that he would like KB Oil to make methane and ethanol based fuels available at some future date.  However, according to Bettridge, the problem remains that there is not enough supply of any of the gasoline alternatives to sustain America’s ever growing appetite for fuel.

 A change to alternative fuel will be a long, arduous process.  It requires a change from the gas station owners, fuel producers, and consumers; still, if local gas stations are not willing or able to offer alternative fuel, then people living in Cedar City have no reason to buy cars that are capable of running on alternative fuels, and nothing will change.  Southern Utahans will remain vulnerable to the future’s even higher gas prices.

One possible solution could come from the government.  The government should invest money not only into research of alternative fuels but also into those that produce them and the gas stations and that would sell them.  The government should implement a program to give tax breaks to gas stations that provide E85 ethanol or other alternative fuels, and pass legislation requiring all new cars to be E85 ethanol ready.  This would motivate owners to change, in turn motivating consumers to buy vehicles that are E85 ethanol ready.  This would create a stronger market which would motivate farmers to produce corn.  Or, research should be furthered to see what would be the most efficient alternative to gasoline.  The United States would be more economically independent and consequently less dependent on foreign oil.

This would be a monumental change and it would not be easy, but it is necessary.  With a progressively more interdependent global economy and the politically volatile world in which we live, it is necessary that the United States take a proactive stance and begin now to implement programs to wean US citizens off of gasoline and on to an alternative source of fuel.  If preventative measures are not taken soon, the economic mess that will ensue will be many times more complicated and much harder to fix than simply taking preventative actions today.

Works Cited:

Adams, Aaron. Personal interview. 19 Feb 2006.

Bettridge, Rand. Telephone interview. 23 Feb 2006.

Burnett, Jed. Personal interview. 19 Feb 2006.

"E85 The 411." Live green go yellow. General motors . 21 Feb. 2006 <http://www.gm.com/company/onlygm/livegreengoyellow>.