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GUEST EDITORIAL

Oil companies profit on our pain

Putting gas in our car now costs more than dinner for two at a moderately priced chain restaurant. Whereas we used to fill our tank for the cost of a pair of hearty meals at McDonalds, we're now fully into two entrees and a shared appetizer at T.G.I Friday's territory.

I use the food analogy because the money that goes to fill the tank is money that does not go to other purchases. If I have to spend sit-down family dining money at the pump, than I'll only be able to spend drive-through, meal comes in a sack cash on eating.

These restaurant analogies likely won't mean anything to any oil company executives reading this because they have the money to eat at restaurants that don't have mascots or TV commercials. It seems that the rising price of a barrel of oil also means rising profits for oil companies and record salaries for their executives.

There's something perverse in the fact that as gas and home heating oil prices rise, oil companies make more money. As the public struggles to find ways to fill its cars and heat its homes, these companies celebrate record profits, pretty much laughing at our troubles and rubbing our noses in their success.

The price of gas rises because the cost of a barrel of crude oil has risen, but instead of merely passing on that cost, oil company executives tack on something extra for themselves with every increase. While that sounds like normal business procedure, no other industry has responded to increasing, material, energy and food costs in the same way.

Every company that delivers or receives delivery has felt the burden of higher fuel costs, yet few have passed all that cost on to the consumer. In similar fashion restaurants have been slammed with increasing food and fuel prices but have passed on only a fraction to the customer. Prices have risen everywhere, but in nearly every case besides the oil companies, the business absorbs some of the pain and the consumer takes some.

Basically, Big Oil profits off of our misery which gives them no real incentive to come up with any creative ways to lower prices. If rising oil prices mean higher profits, it's hard to imagine oil companies are looking too hard to increase efficiency, find better refining methods or do anything else that might end the pain.

Fortunately for me, I have a company car and my wife and I do well enough that the increased costs at the pump for her vehicle have only caused lifestyle problems, not living problems. For many people the incredible increase in the cost of gas and home heating oil has led to more uncomfortable choices than swapping Taco Bell for Chili's.

Some people are lucky enough to make ends meet by trimming luxury purchases, going out less often or taking shorter vacations. For others, however, the choices have become truly dire and they have had to face the impossibility of choosing between heat and food.

When faced with that choice, the correct answer is always food because a bunch of sweaters can combat a chilly house, but only eating can stop you from starving to death. Unfortunately, the rising price of oil has also caused food prices to spike, meaning that not only does the family have to be cold, they have to eat a lousy meal.

Oil companies may be riding high now, but an industry that does not listen to its customers eventually finds itself obsolete. That may seem impossible now, but every hybrid vehicle, solar panel and alternative energy source used lessens our dependency on oil and oil companies.

Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. His parenting blog can be seen at babydidwhat.com. Daniel B. Kline can be reached at dan@notastep.com.

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