Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Transport Fuel Rationing in the USA: Part 8 What can I do to prepare for fuel rationing?

Somehow, I think that if rationing was installed in the USA today, it would not provoke the “cum by ya” moment of cooperation and solidarity, as portrayed in the above WWII poster.   Americans hate gasoline rationing. For instance, this 2008 survey found that nearly 8 in 10 Americans oppose gas rationing (http://www.gallup.com/poll/107542/majority-americans-support-price-controls-gas.aspx). Nevertheless, I hope that the first seven parts of this series have made you consider that this is a real possibility, sooner or later.

Moreover, there is the possibility that if rationing were to be installed initially as a “temporary emergency measure,” subsequent events, like oil refinery destruction, peak oil, peak exported oil will cause the “temporary” to become permanent. 

So what can you do to prepare for this possibility?

Big picture view:
Start thinking about how to increase your transportation resilience to mitigate the consequences of gas rationing.  This will help prepare your mind to shift from panic to action, should rationing be installed. Just by thinking about the problem as it applies specifically to you, and then making some simple, low cost preparations, you can at least take some of the bite out of rationing. 

Here are several actions that you can take to towards this goal, presented roughly in order of increasing difficulty and/or expense:
1. Assess your present gasoline dependence

a. This week, have everyone in your household track their total miles driven—or do it yourself; just take a week-to-week odometer reading of each vehicle.  Is the household at or above some of the driving ranges presented above?  Are you above the present average household commuter distance of 64 miles?  If you are, this should raise a red flag.  Above a driving range of 44 miles?  You could still be in trouble during the kind of disruption that I talked about in parts1-7 of this series.

b. Try to get a good estimate of many miles per gallon each of your household's vehicles are getting.  And, no I don't mean looking up the manufacturer's or the EPA's estimate mpg, or the number that your car spits out on the dash-board.  I mean actually fill your tank up, measure the miles driven this week and then fill the tank up, again noting how much gas was used.  You may be surprised and disappointed.  Do you have vehicles getting less than the average of 20 mph?  A lot less?  Another red flag. 

Ideally, the above two steps, a and b, can been done at the same this.  Take it upon yourself to get it done for every car in your household even if you don’t drive it.  For example, next weekend take each vehicle to the gas station fill them up and note their odometer readings. Then repeat the exercise next weekend, or a shorter period, if necessary.

After this exercise, you should have a pretty good idea of what your gasoline dependence and risks are.

2.  Get every mile you can per gallon out your existing vehicles

a. Maintain your vehicles.

Get your vehicle tuned-up, inflate the tires to their proper pressure, change the air pressure, keep the outside clean and waxed, and stop lugging around excess weight in your trunk, flat-bed or on your roof (including that unused rack).   Altogether, these actions could improve your fuel economy by 10 to 20 percent. (http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/maintain.shtml;  http://www.edmunds.com/reviews/list/top10/103164/article.html)  

b. Stop driving like a maniac!

I don't think that you have to become a hyper-miler; just get into the habit of reducing your breaking and quick acceleration, and stop speeding.  It could gain you another 10 to 20 percent in fuel economy.

c. Pick your travel times and routes wisely.

Idling in traffic is essentially 0 mpg.  For an average 1-way commute time of 26 minutes (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Traffic/story?id=485098&page=1) just avoiding idling for 2.5 minutes would be a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy.  With a little bit of adjustment, can you travel during non-peak hours?  For instance, what impact would driving to work have if you left half-an-hour earlier or later?  Think about alternative routes you can take that have less stops and starts. 

After trying steps a, b and c, go ahead and repeat (1) for a week.  I'm predicting that you will get at least a 20 percent improvement in fuel economy.

Imagine what impact this could have if the USA did this as a whole—368 MG gas/d could potentially be reduced to 294 MG gas/d.  The difference (74 MG gas/d) would correspond to 3.8 MB oil/d, or, about 1/3 of the USA's present oil imports.   Amazing!

Some additional advice and resources on improving you gas mileage is presented at my other site here: http://www.squidoo.com/crash_watchers_picks-how-to-get-better-gas-mileage

3.  Avoid or reduce your driving 

a. Combining errands can improve your gas mileage because your engine will be warm for more of the trip, and, can reduce the total miles traveled (http://www.edmunds.com/reviews/list/top10/103164/article.html).

b. Can you work from home at least 1 day a week?  It would be a very good idea to get this set-up to do this now, if possible, even if only as an experiment.  Get your employer's approval and make sure you have secure on-line access to any data bases etc... that you might need from home.

c. Take public transit, car pool, bike, or walk.  Again, at least as an experiment, you should look into how you could commute to work by one or more of these means, if possible.  Locate the nearest bus routes and bike lanes, and, at least think about how you would use these if necessary.  Maybe even try it out a couple times on a non-working day.

4. Your own private Strategic Fuel Reserve

In an earlier version of this article, one commenter reported having 8-55 gallon drums of gasoline and 8 drums of diesel stored on his property.  He used a tractor with special skids to move the fuel drums around! 

I think that for most people, however, even if they could afford this amount of gasoline, or diesel, would have no place to store it.  Or, urban or suburban dweller would run into Home Owner Association restrictions, fire code restrictions or city bylaws etc.....  Your home insurance policy might exclude this.  Let’s face, it if you live in an urban/suburban area, do you want to live next door to someone who has +800 gallons of flammable fuel in storage? 

A 60-gallon metal drum is the only container approved by the Uniform Fire Code for the storage of more than five gallons of gasoline.

The Uniform Fire Code limits the amount of gasoline in residential buildings to the amount "necessary for maintenance purposes and operation of equipment," not to exceed a maximum of 25 gallons.

Note that local Fire Department regulations may supersede the Uniform Fire Code. When storing more that five gallons of gasoline it is best to check with your local Fire Department for local regulations.

Nevertheless, I still think that it is a good idea to have at least 20 gallons of spare gasoline around to help smooth a transition to a rationing regime, or, even to ensure that you can get out of town if there was an emergence situation (e.g., evacuation) and the gas stations were closed. 

However, you also have the issue of gasoline and diesel deteriorating over time.  Low-boiling components can evaporate off, gasoline and diesel will oxidize and even microbial growth and activity will occur, especially at fuel-water interfaces (http://www.chevron.com/products/prodserv/fuels/technical_safety_bulletins/ltg_detecting.aspx).   

Over time, the fuel can react with the plastic containers and gradually deteriorate the container.  So stick with containers that are really designed to hold fuel.  By the same token steel containers can rust over time, and contaminate the fuel.  All of these processes will degrade the performance of the fuel.  And, all of these processes are accelerated by heat (e.g., as in gasoline stored in a hot garage).

Exactly how long can you store gasoline and then put it into your car and have your car still start?  I don’t know.  But I do know that you won’t get the same miles-per-gallon than you would with fresh gasoline. And, those oxidation products can clog up gas lines and filters, as well the small orifices in the carburetor or fuel injector (http://autos.aol.com/article/does-gas-go-bad/).  Search around the internet and you find estimates ranging from 2 to 6 months before gasoline “goes bad.”  Personally, I would not want to use gasoline older than 2 months, unless I had to. 

Adding a fuel stabilizer/extender can help increase the longevity of stored gasoline and diesel.  I think it is reasonable that a good stabilizer, proper container and good storage conditions (e.g., cool, dark and dry) could extend the longevity to a year.  Still, the safer way is to periodically rotate your stock so you never have stored fuel that’s more that 2 months old, even if you are adding a stabilizer.

It would also be useful to have a siphon so that if you were short of gasoline, you could pool the gasoline from the tanks in your cars into the most fuel efficient car, and just drive this car. 

Some additional advice and resources on gas containers, siphons and stabilizer is presented at my other site here: http://www.squidoo.com/crash-watchers-picks-gasoline-stabilizers-and-gasoline-cans

5.  Get rid of, or trade-in, your least efficient vehicle
If you are a multi-car family, could you make do with one less car?  As an experiment, put away the keys for the least fuel-efficient vehicle for a week or so, and see how your family adjusts.  Would this actually save you enough gasoline to be a worthwhile strategy in a gas-rationing situation?  If you try it at least then, if you had to do this in the future, you would know if it's worthwhile or not, and, you would have a routine worked out.

6. Buy a new vehicle?

I am not too keen on recommending buying a new fuel efficient vehicle at this stage, especially if it meant taking on additional debt.  However, if after trying all of these steps and, you still feel that you wouldn't be able to tolerate fuel rationing, it's an option. 

7.  Move so that you live closer to your job (or vice-versa)?

This is an option for some, but again, I am not too keen on recommending relocating to be closer to your current workplace or school if it meant taking on additional debt.   If your employment situation changed, for example, could the new location put you farther away from potential new employers?

Renters have the advantage of greater mobility here over homeowners.

Also, to be worthwhile, the move should result in the household's dependence on gasoline on gasoline being reduced as a whole.   For instance, if moving means that you can walk to public transit but your spouse has to drive a bit farther, then maybe it's worthwhile.  For instance, if moving means that you and your spouse have longer commutes but now you can car pool together, then maybe it's worthwhile.

Likewise, moving your business to be closer to your home could be an expensive proposition, and may not help, if it meant that certain key employees would then have to travel farther to your business.

As an exercise, however, try to locate places where you might want to move to and then consider what impact this would have on your household's overall gasoline dependence.

If this list makes you think of something else, or, you have already done something else, then I would love to hear your comments or suggestions:

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