Since the price of gasoline in the US is increasing again, the talk making ridiculous claims about gas prices are too. For example, I recently received a chain email titled “Buy AMERICAN Gasoline”. This particular email (which I won’t help spread by posting a link) claims that we should buy “AMERICAN” gasoline or we will “keep on Supporting the MUSLIMS”. Here is my quick reply, showing how even a quick look at the data completely debunks this chain letter.

Choosing a gas station to attempt to control the source of your gas is moot:

Can I Tell Which Companies Purchase Imported Crude Oil or Gasoline?
While EIA cannot identify which companies are selling imported gasoline, we do collect data on which companies import crude oil and refined products. However, the fact that a given company imported crude oil or gasoline does not mean that those particular imports will end up being sold to motorists as that company’s brand of gasoline. This is because gasoline from different refineries is often combined for shipment by pipeline, and different companies owning service stations in the same area may be purchasing gasoline at the same bulk terminal.
—US Energy Information Administration, “Oil Imports and Exports – Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy

Oil is a fungible commodity, so what matters to price is the world demand. (And world oil futures speculation and local distribution costs…)

Since the forwarded message makes such a point about not supporting Saudi Arabia: ~8.7% of oil used in the US is from the Persian Gulf, including ~5.3% from Saudi Arabia. The top sources of oil used in the US are:

Top sources of US oil
Source %
US 49
Canada 12
Venezuela 5.5
Saudi Arabia 5.3
Mexico 4.7
Nigeria 4.2

The numbers in the email for which companies import oil from the Middle East are also wrong. For example, it lists Valero as importing no Middle Eastern oil, when in fact the Persian Gulf is the source of 24% of their oil. BP is also quoted as 0%, when it is actually 10 or 44% depending on the region. The email also lists Amoco as an importer from the Persian Gulf, when it is a division of BP, which it lists as not an importer from the Persian Gulf. Several others on the list of 0% each only supply fractions of a percent of US oil. Besides, as shown above, the original source of the oil doesn’t matter to price. Even if we could shift where we get our oil, that just shifts who is buying from where, with the total sold remaining constant.

What matters is the total oil used. A quick calculation shows that to decrease the amount of oil used in the US by the amount we import from Saudi Arabia, all you have to do is increase average fuel economy by a bit over one mile per gallon. Most people can improve their mileage by more than that by just learning to drive their current car slightly better. In fact, we may get there before most people learn to drive properly: last year’s update to the CAFE standards finally started us back on track to improve fuel economy by more than this amount.

Remember, the solution is efficiency, not which gas station you buy from!

After I wrote this, I found that a variant of this particular email has been around for years, and that Snopes debunked it six years ago.

Hmm… maybe I should debunk some of The Heritage Foundation’s claims about oil prices too…