A Lack of Gas and Societal Unrest

Today, as my family and I drove through the dampened streets of the Bronx, thick with the heavy breaths of old men speaking in hushed tones around benches and chess tables, I noticed something was quite awry. There were lines of vehicles swung around cramped city blocks all over the borough. Gas stations were crowded to the brink with consumers trying to get gas into their cars; on those that were closed were thin strips of yellow, mocking ‘Caution’ tape. In Manhattan, the lines are even longer and the tape more frequent. It is clear the effects of hurricane Sandy linger.

As we made our way a bit upstate, we could see the damage was even greater. Trees had toppled to the ground like toy blocks, on every street, and downed power lines dangled from mailboxes and wooden fences. In Scarsdale, a particularly affluent village, the line for gas stretched the entire length of a parkway. A line of cars, almost a quarter mile in length, had accumulated outside a Gulf station in the center of town. A sheriff and several workers in bright green coats tried to assure the people that they would all get gas as they also directed traffic.

In White Plains, out of seven gas stations I spotted, the only two open had tails of cars stretching block upon block. Several dozens of cars chained around the corners of streets in hopes that they would get some gas before the day way done. When shown the line by a fellow he had asked on the street, a man hopped out of his 4×4 and screamed profusely at the top of his lungs. In his apparent rage and confusion he actually knelt by the side of our car and started banging on its front bumper, only to later apologize for thinking it was his car.

To say the least, it seemed like chaos. The power outages had resulted in the majority of gas stations being closed, and thus not being able to pump the gasoline they had. Other gas stations have not been able to get gas deliveries due to street closures and flooding. The hurricane effectively knocked out the gas supply to many gas stations for days. A woman I talked to while she was pumping gas into a gas can said, “Some of the stations are closed because they don’t even have gas left to sell.” She continued explaining how a neighbor of hers had been stuck home from work for the past two days because her car had run out of gas, and that she was filling the gas can for her car. “She was also expecting a heating oil delivery on Tuesday but it had to be canceled, so she has been practically freezing in her home the past couple of days,” she said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “The issue of gasoline has created concern and anxiety and practical problems all throughout the region. People can’t get gas, there’s a slow down of the delivery of services, it’s increased the stress level all across the region. It’s going to require some patience. This is not going to get better overnight because this was a major, major assault by Mother Nature that we went through.”

These problems have been present since Tuesday, when the storm’s final blows receded and the chaos and unrest these problems of gas, oil and energy have caused are explicit and clear. Right now the problem is mild because people are being assured at the state and federal level that things will return to normal. A person stuck at home for a few days without energy knows not to panic, for example, because things are only temporary.

However, it would be a different tale if that were not true. What if, for some hypothetical reason, OPEC decided to withhold oil shipments to the U.S. for even a week? The nation would see a burst of outcries and social unrest would ensue. Some sort of military action would follow shortly, likely in the Middle East. Surely even, the President of the United States would sign an executive order spilling out into the public the American oil reserves. In other words, the U.S. would be confronted with a bout of instability.

This possible instability need not exist in the underbelly of the U.S. considering that there is enough oil in North America to make the continent self-sufficient, energy-wise. The fact is, although this truth is evident and both political parties have conceded it, they have yet to make any sort of an agreement on how to go about achieving such a goal. Although the aspirations of Republicans give far too much control over policy to oil companies, Obama has barely lifted a finger with regards to decreasing foreign energy dependence. With hardcore environmentalists still grasping a hold in the Democratic party, no such bill to increase onshore and offshore drilling, expand coal operations, or increase natural gas production will ever be passed in Congress.

The bitter truth is that clean wind and solar technologies are not nearly as cheap, efficient and job-producing as are fossil fuels. In this time of economic hardship and $4-a-gallon gasoline, there needs to be, and should be, a clear consensus on where to take this nation to energy-wise, lest we want to see the potential for social unrest and disturbance continue to grow in America.


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