Obama Shuts Down 1.6M Acres to Oil Shale Development

Just two days after President Obama’s re-election, the Obama Interior Department announced a plan to shut down 1.6 million acres of federal land to oil shale development. The land had originally been slated for drilling under President George W. Bush.

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California Gas Stations Shut as Oil Refiners Ration Supplies

Gasoline station owners in the Los Angeles area including Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) are beginning to shut pumps as the state’s oil refiners started rationing supplies and spot prices surged to a record.

Valero Energy Corp. (VLO) stopped selling gasoline on the spot, or wholesale, market in Southern California and is allocating deliveries to customers. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) is also rationing fuel to U.S. West Coast terminal customers. Costco’s outlet in Simi Valley, 40 miles (64 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, ran out of regular gasoline yesterday and was selling premium fuel at the price of regular.

The gasoline shortage “feels like a hurricane to me, but it’s the West Coast,” Jeff Cole, Costco’s vice president of gasoline, said by telephone yesterday. “We’re obviously extremely disheartened that we are unable to do this, and we’re pulling fuel from all corners of California to fix this.”

Spot gasoline in Los Angeles has surged $1 a gallon this week to a record $1.45 a gallon premium versus gasoline futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s the highest level for the fuel since at least November 2007, when Bloomberg began publishing prices there. On an outright basis, the fuel has jumped to $4.3929 a gallon.

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Top EPA Official Inadvertently Tells The Truth About the White House’s Environmental Agenda

Obama Mocks Ed Henry: Do You Think I Want Gas Prices Going Up In An Election Year?

Ed Henry, FOX News: Your critics will say on Capitol Hill that you want gas prices to go higher because you have said before that will wean the American people off fossil fuels onto renewable fuels. How do you respond to that?

President Obama: Ed, just from a political perspective, do you think the President of the United States going into re-election wants gas prices to go up higher? Is that — is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense? Look, here’s the bottom line with respect to gas prices: I want gas prices lower because they hurt families.

Gas prices are highest ever for this time of year

Gasoline prices have never been higher this time of the year.

At $3.53 a gallon, prices are already up 25 cents since Jan. 1. And experts say they could reach a record $4.25 a gallon by late April.

“You’re going to see a lot more staycations this year,” says Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. “When the price gets anywhere near $4, you really see people react.”

Already, W. Howard Coudle, a retired machinist from Crestwood, Mo., has seen his monthly gasoline bill rise to $80 from about $60 in December. The closest service station is selling regular for $3.39 per gallon, the highest he’s ever seen.

“I guess we’re going to have to drive less, consolidate all our errands into one trip,” Coudle says. “It’s just oppressive.”

The surge in gas prices follows an increase in the price of oil.

Oil around the world is priced differently. Brent crude from the North Sea is a proxy for the foreign oil that’s imported by U.S. refineries and turned into gasoline and other fuels. Its price has risen 11 percent so far this year, to around $119 a barrel, because of tensions with Iran, a cold snap in Europe and rising demand from developing nations. West Texas Intermediate, used to price oil produced in the U.S., is up 4 percent to around $103 a barrel. That’s 19 percent higher than a year earlier.

Higher gas prices could hurt consumer spending and curtail the recent improvement in the U.S. economy.

A 25-cent jump in gasoline prices, if sustained over a year, would cost the economy about $35 billion. That’s only 0.2 percent of the total U.S. economy, but economists say it’s a meaningful amount, especially at a time when growth is only so-so. The economy grew 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter, a rate considered modest following a recession.

Gas prices are already an issue in the presidential campaign. Republican candidate Newt Gingrich spoke several times this week about opening up more federal land to oil and gas drilling as a path toward U.S. energy independence – and lower pump prices.

“Our goals should be to get gasoline to $2.50 or less so that working families can actually get to work and retired families can travel,” Gingrich said at a campaign event in Los Angeles Thursday.

High oil and gas prices now set the stage for even sharper increases at the pump because gas typically rises in March and April.

Every spring, refiners suspend operations to switch the type of gasoline they make. Supplies of wintertime gas are sold off before March, when refineries need to start making a new formula of gasoline that’s required in the summer.

That can mean less supply for service stations, resulting in higher gas prices. And summertime gasoline is more expensive to make. The government mandates that it contain less butane and other cheap organic compounds because they contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a primary constituent in smog. That means more oil, a costlier component, is needed to produce each gallon.

The Oil Price Information Service predicts that gasoline could peak at $4.25 a gallon by the end of April. That would top the record of $4.11 in July 2008.

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