Honolulu Lite
Charles Memminger

Hawaii gets gassed
over oil prices

Talk about great timing. With Hawaii's new "gas cap" law taking effect just as hurricanes and international market forces are conspiring to force mainland gas prices to historic highs, we can soon expect to be paying about $23 a gallon.

The geniuses in the state Legislature -- all of whom, I believe, hold master's degrees in economics from Harvard or at least Leeward Community College -- gleefully tied Hawaii wholesale gas prices to various mainland markets, which will prove to be something like tethering yourself to the bow of the Titanic just as a large ice mass is noticed in the distance.

Unlike our elected leaders, I don't claim to know anything about the economics of fuel consumption. But instinct tells me that when oil platforms are ripped from their towers in the Gulf of Mexico and washed up on the shores of Alabama, that's not a good sign. Unless we suddenly strike oil on Kahoolawe, I suspect we will be paying minibar prices for Texas crude.

The good news is that when the oil industry shysters start gouging mainlanders in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Hawaii won't look as ridiculous as it does right now. Everyone making fun of Hawaii for imposing a gas cap will be screaming for the same.

In the meantime, refinery owners will be making those looters carrying away TVs in New Orleans look like pikers. If CNN really wants to document looting on a grand scale, it better move its cameras from the streets to the suites, because that's where the action is. But you won't see that. It's a lot easier to photograph someone fleeing a supermarket with a case of Colt 45 and a box of Pampers then it is to catch oil execs high-fiving each other in a boardroom.

It probably would be a good time to put your big old gas-guzzling SUV up on blocks to buy stock in Exxon Mobil or Occidental Petroleum. Why is it that wars, inflation and natural disasters are never bad news for oil companies? According to news reports, the biggest gainers on the New York Stock Exchange last week were oil, gas and oil field services companies. Ka-CHING!

As we all wait in line in coming months for the privilege of purchasing our several ounces of boutique fuel, it will be a good time to ponder the fact that all of Hawaii's oil comes to us by boat. Big, expensive boats. Most of our electricity and all of our transportation is fueled by this oil. It's really a pretty ridiculous situation when you think about it.

Since the world is relatively short of dinosaurs, it doesn't look like there'll be any new crude oil created in the near future. And with billions of Chinese turning in their bicycles for BMWs and developing a fondness for central heating and air conditioning, we're going to be competing for any remaining dino juice left on Earth. That means we can optimistically predict that the price of oil and gas will never, ever, ever, ever go down again. And that means, gas caps or not, those of us who live on this little speck of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean will always be paying insane prices to fill up our cars and keep the electricity running.

Now that I've got you all cheered up, I've got run over to Lex Brodie's and cue up for a cup of high test.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com

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