Debunking Gas Myths & Conspiracy Theories

Heard the one about cellular phones touching off explosions at gas stations? Or received those e-mails calling for a one-day gasoline boycott in order to lower prices? All bogus. Here's why:

I was always dubious about those e-mails urging people to avoid filling up their gas tanks on a given day or to spurn the most famous gasoline brands in order to lower overall gasoline prices. Turns out these bogus e-mails are not the only fallacies that get widely disseminated everytime there's a surge in gas prices. Below are some conspiracy theories and one urban legend that you've probably heard about:

Myth #1: By refusing to purchase gasoline from the two largest companies, we can pressure overall gas prices to come down.

The reasoning goes something like this...if the two biggest companies "are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices which in turn will force other companies to follow suit." Not true. Prices at all the non-boycotted companies will likely go up due to temporarily strained supply and increased demand. In truth, consumers must reduce their overall gasoline buying and not just purchase it from a different outlet in order to help provoke a price drop.

Details at www.snopes.com/inboxer/petition/gasout.htm

Myth #2: By staging a one-day gas boycott, we can cause a decrease in the retail price of gasoline.

A widely read e-mail purports that "if everyone in the United States did not purchase a drop of gasoline for one day and all at the same time, the oil companies would choke on their stockpiles." Not so. For one thing, it's not even a true boycott, which involves doing without something. Instead, people are just postponing or moving up their gas purchasing by one day. We would affect only those at the bottom of the oil-to-gas chain--service station operators--who have the least influence on gasoline prices. Again, only a significant, long-term reduction in gas demand will have the desired effect.

Details at www.snopes.com/politics/business/nogas.asp

Myth #3: By avoiding gasoline from some big oil companies, you can curtail the funding of terrorists.

The e-mail reads something like this..."every time I fill up the tank, I am sending my money to people who are trying to kill me, my family, and my friends. It turns out that some oil companies import a lot of Middle Eastern oil and others do not import any" and it goes on to list the oil companies that Americans should buy from. But the fact is that oil companies do not just sell gasoline through their branded service stations but through many different outlets, making it exceedingly difficult to determine point of origin. Also, according to www.snopes.com, less than a third of U.S. crude oil imports originate from Arab OPEC countries (Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia).

Details at www.snopes.com/inboxer/outrage/nogas.htm

Myth #4: Cellular phones have triggered explosions at gas stations.

The Discovery Channel TV program MythBusters suggests that it's not even possible to create a fire from a cell. And the American Petroleum Institute says that "we can find no evidence of someone using a cell phone causing any kind of accident, no matter how small, at a gas station anywhere in the world." Phew. One less thing to worry about.

Details at www.snopes.com/autos/hazards/gasvapor.asp

Myth #5: Conspiracies are a factor in the price of gasoline.

Conspiracy Theory A: Last year, George W. exploited the long-standing and close relationship between his family and the Saudi Arabian regime to get re-elected. By plying us with oil, the Saudi elite helped prop up the U.S. economy and ensured Bush's stay in power. A recent report predicting oil will hit $105 a barrel was a payoff to Big Oil.

Conspiracy Theory B: "There's a top-secret network of pipelines out of Iraq that is siphoning off reserves from the oil kingdom's reconstruction efforts into the hands of greedy Western interests." (as reported in this Orlando Business Journal op-ed piece)

The author of the opinion piece in Orlando Business Journal calls these theories "total nonsense." Ultimately, we are the ones who determine the price of gasoline. We are the ones heading recklessly into an oil crisis. "The blame falls squarely on our own shoulders," says the article. "We are a nation in love--almost to the point of obsession--with our motor vehicles. We are frighteningly oblivious to the fact that petroleum resources provided on this planet will some day dry up."

Sources:

Fact Sheet: Gasoline Myths...and Facts

NACS Online (National Association of Convenience Stores)

www.nacsonline.com

Big Oil Myths and Big Worries

Orlando Business Journal, April 11, 2005

orlando.bizjournals.com/orlando/stories/2005/04/11/editorial1.html

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