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We're Closer to $5 Gas Than You Think

There are several reasons to be optimistic about America's energy prospects: Oil and gas production is climbing, alternative energy use is skyrocketing, and efficiency gains are giving us more bang for our buck. Yet despite all this good news on U.S. shores, we cannot forget that the U.S. is only one piece of the global energy puzzle. There are a lot of signs around the world that $5 gas is very possible, and more likely than many of us would like to think.

Demand is falling... here
The demand for oil across the U.S. and Europe has been either flat or declining for the past decade, and demand for oil from OECD countries is less than it was 15 years ago. Certainly these kinds of numbers should be encouraging, right?

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, author's calculations

The only problem is, it only tells half the story. 

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, authors calculations

Based on projections, next year it will be less than half the story.

By 2014, the petroleum demand of countries not in the OECD is expected to surpass that of OECD members, and is expected to be double that of OECD countries by 2030, according to the International Association for Energy Economics. The world will still struggle to keep up with petroleum demand, and the costs to find these new sources will constantly go up because the costs to extract these new sources is much higher than what we were used to.

Between 2011 and 2012, the average reserve replacement cost for the top 50 exploration and production companies listed on U.S. exchanges nearly doubled to $32.72 per barrel. Even worse, integrated majors Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) and BP (NYSE: BP  ) saw reserve replacement costs balloon to $41.76 and $72.03 per barrel, respectively. Companies like these two are big players in the global marketplace and their actions can have major implications on global markets. When costs get so high, prices will follow suit because companies will need to recover their costs.

The oil market is still pretty inelastic
I cannot deny that the appeal of alternatives to gasoline vehicles is getting stronger everyday, but we need to keep this in context. While many people may be more aggressive in pursuing an alternative to gas as prices climb, the infrastructure to make that a reality just isn't in place for it to happen yet.

Let's take, for example, natural gas vehicles. Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ: CLNE  ) , the nation's largest fueling station network, has about 360 stations. The problem, though, is that just isn't enough to make it convenient enough for every day drivers to make the switch. According to the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, the point at which natural gas vehicles can be adopted on a large scale is about 53,000 fueling stations, so we are about 2.2% to the point where you or I could seriously consider a natural gas vehicle without the inconvenience of driving around for half the day to find a fueling station. 

The same could be said for electric vehicles as well. I cannot deny that electric vehicle sales are growing fast, but they still have a long way to go before electrics start taking a serious chunk out of other vehicle sales. Year to date, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) has sold about 7,506 Model S vehicles. When you stack that up against cars in its class (Mercedes S-Class, Audi A8, BMW 7 series), it outperformed each of them. In the grand scheme, though, all electric vehicle sales represent less than 1% of the more than 6 million vehicles sold in the U.S. so far this year. It would take a monumental effort from automakers to convert or expand their manufacturing processes to accommodate a big bump in electric vehicle sales. 

Pundits always get in trouble by saying something will never happen, but technology always improves. If anything I am very optimistic about the long-term prospects of alternative fuel transportation. Based on where we are today, though, it will still be quite some time before we can say "no thanks" to high gas prices. 

Supply can turn at at the drop of a hat, and it's not a good thing
The U.S. boom in oil production has made us pretty bold in our proclamations about the global energy market, and to a certain degree this boom will profoundly affect oil supplies around the world and will take away some of OPECs influence on oil prices. The key word in that previous sentence, though, is "some".  OPEC representatives have gone on record lately to say that they intend to maintain a 30 million barrel per day production level in order to keep prices at current levels. For quite a while longer, we will have to live with the fact that OPEC will still be taking the big piece of chicken at the dinner table.

As much as we would like to see other nations develop the drilling technology that has flourished in the U.S., it's estimated that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling may not be in widespread use outside the U.S. for another 10-15 years. This means that several other large oil markets, such as Europe and China, will be at the mercy of OPEC's pricing, and will pay a hefty premium because of it. 

That's OK, we can produce our own oil so we don't need to worry about prices overseas, right? Not really. As much as we would like to think that U.S. oil companies are going to shield us from expensive prices overseas, it is more likely that they are salivating at the idea of selling to those markets. In the previous quarter, the trio of large independent refiners with a presence in the Gulf of Mexico – Valero (NYSE: VLO  ) , Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX  ) , and Marathon Petroleum (NYSE: MPC  ) – combined to export 785,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel per day to markets in Europe and South America. Each of these companies' execs stated in their recent conference calls that they are doing this because the prices there are much more attractive, and each one has plans to expand export capacity to take advantage of these high prices. As long as someone is paying a higher price for gas overseas, we will likely be stuck with high prices as well.

What a Fool believes
As much as I would like to believe that gas prices have hit the ceiling, there is too much going on in the global markets to think that we will never get there. In the long term, alternative fuels will start taking bigger bites out of gas vehicles and the U.S. will be able to supply itself with more oil, but for the time being we will still be affected by the whims of the global oil market. This means that $5 gas is well within the realm of possibility.

For investors, though, the nascent alternative transportation market is expected to grow at a staggering pace, and those who get in on the ground floor could yield enormous gains. With Tesla carving out the premier auto position in this market, could it be the one for you? The Motley Fool answers this question and more in our most in-depth Tesla research available. Get instant access by clicking here now.

Read/Post Comments (23) | Recommend This Article (27)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 1:04 PM, todamo13 wrote:

    As more people get fracked, with the resulting contaminated air and drinking water, diseases from toxic pollutants like Benzene, industrial noise and traffic, and destroyed roads (among other ill effects), don't be surprised if the backlash against all phases of this new drilling boom builds. Many people are "for" it until it comes (literally) into their backyard. Then the rose colored glasses tend to come off.

    Fracking represents the bottom of the barrel for oil and gas production. It's expensive, energy-intensive, destroys millions of gallons of fresh water per frack job per well (say a frack job on a well uses 3 million gallons of water, and the well is fracked 7-8 times- that's a lot of contaminated water that is no longer good for drinking) in drought stricken areas like Texas. And it won't last. The flow lasts a short time, the well is fracked again, etc. The first tapped shale fields are already dropping in production.

    Some localities in America are banning it before it starts, and other countries who care more about the health and well-being of their citizens will ban it before it starts.

    If we kept the oil produced by this drilling for domestic use, it might be viewed more favorably, but with immensely profitable oil companies selling the oil on the world market for a huge profit, and American citizens getting stuck with the contamination and ill effects, this industry is not making friends (and certainly isn't making us energy independent as they try to get permission to also export natural gas abroad). "Socialize the costs, privatize the profits."

    My point is- the current 'boom' will probably end up being a blip, so the faster we can switch to clean energy and be truly energy independent, the better.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 5:10 PM, spawn44 wrote:

    I would think the water will evaporate and get re-cycled, like most water does. And I also think THE DANGEROUS POLLUTANT (not) CO2 gets re-cycled by MOTHER NATURE also, Doesn't it.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 5:37 PM, tomsin wrote:

    Looks like half of fools staff is really fool. Two three days ago I read a article where they said 3 dollar gas and justified in big way. Now this clown is just opposite of that , if we consider one right other is definitely wrong. What amazes me is that they collect some data , makes few colred table and graph on post and think , they are really writting for fools. I know they are not gonna publish this comment but my purpose will be served if they read it. Very few people are god gift to convet Information to knowledge, most of public is spitting information online . Information when assimalted, analysed, dissected,juiced out becomes knowledge than only you can do better investing. My advise to fools reader is that you don't fall prey to such info and get scamed. Sometimes that is what could be the motive. See facebook what happened to its stock , another ponzy scheme.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 6:02 PM, Seanickson wrote:

    its an opinion website and its largely a rebuttal to the other article you're referencing. I think this discussion is great. This is a website that focuses on investing, someone almost always ends up right and somebody else essentially wrong but thats also kind of the fun in it.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 6:27 PM, joebillings wrote:

    Big oil in of itself is a scam ridden Ponzi scheme. Yes analysts show trend charts, graphs, and have their expectations, and realizations, and they try to give reason to an industry that is out of control. A recent survey I conducted showed that a majority of people wouldn't flinch if the gas price in the US hit $10 a gallon, they would still drive their SUV's just as much as they do today. The price which would change people's minds about gas consumption would be somewhere around $12 - $15 a gallon. This would then open the door for all other companies to raise their prices, i.e. airlines would add a $100 fuel surcharge to all their flights, there would be no competition. Milk would go from $3.69 a gallon to $6 a gallon.

    A few years back when gas was hitting the $5 a gallon mark, there were several congressional investigations which started to take place, and then the gas suddenly went back down under $4 a gallon. Everything was called off and nobody once again was accountable for anything.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 7:32 PM, tomsin wrote:

    It could opinion site but whey they give link below about high octane new letter or report to buy or subscribe , it is just an scam for who cannot think rationally and get flowed with article and buys thrier report by paying dollar to befooled next day.

    Opionion is when you don't ask reader to buy anything. I have not sEen such great leing in marketing any where from north pole to south pole like I do see here , I mean north america.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 7:35 PM, pauldelang wrote:

    Dear Tomain. The FB IPO was the best IPO ever. All the greedy speculators who thought they were going to make a quick buck fell head over heels for this one. Remember the idea for the IPO was to put money in FB's pocket not yours. Not only did GS and JPM sell all the shares at the carnival tent on IPO day, they also took the tent, tables, chairs, napkins, cups, plates and plastic knives and forks with them when they left after the party leaving the bewildered speculators wondering what just happened.. In any bankster's eyes this was a perfect IPO for their client. They sucked maximum capital out of greedy but dumb speculator pockets.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 7:44 PM, jrgyardley wrote:

    I believe Mr. Crowe is right about $5 gasoline particularly as it regards inevitable continued growth in non-OECD demand and the slow pace at which natural gas and electric will displace gasoline and diesel because of the infrastructure hurdle (by the way, I also bet NG will beat electric unless and until there is a real breakthrough in battery technology.) Biggest argument I have with his analysis is his comparison of Tesla to BMW, Mercedes and Audi high end models. While it may compare to them in price, it's more like and over-priced, over-weight Buick.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 7:49 PM, ejhickey wrote:

    in the chicago area, we are only about 50 cents away from $5 gas

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 8:40 PM, gdelzer wrote:

    The entire premise of this article is incorrect. How does he know how close I think we are to $5 gas. I think it's going to happen tomorrow. Has it happened today?

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2013, at 9:23 PM, gwparkinson wrote:

    Going back years, if Congress was working for their constituents they would have made all petroleum products subject to the same rules and regs as other necessary products. Electricity, water systems etc. There is no excuse for not properly regulating the cost of those non-renewable resources that we all use everyday.

    Countries that sell those kinds of resources to the highest bidders are damn fools, not "Motlley" ones!!!

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 1:07 AM, jeffhre wrote:

    "I would think the water will evaporate and get re-cycled, like most water does. And I also think THE DANGEROUS POLLUTANT (not) CO2 gets re-cycled by MOTHER NATURE also, Doesn't it"

    Under hundreds of feet of earth, granite, clay lenses and full of fracking fluids? I certainly hope not!

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 1:46 AM, enginear wrote:

    Wow!... I'm a bit surprised to see how many people (on this site!) seem to believe the market has very little to do with the underlying price of a commodity.

    Oil company management and politicians would like to believe they can set prices, but there are just too many consumers to control.

    If prices do exceed $5/gal (6?), watch how fast Elon Musk and his competition gear up, not to mention the frackers

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 10:23 AM, hbofbyu wrote:

    Two words will make $5 gasoline a reality: Quantitative Easing.

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 10:28 AM, ET114 wrote:

    Another gloom and doom; now it's results from fracking... Applying a bit reality; human mortality in early 20th century was 50 years, in 2010 it was 70.4 with biggest increase in the 2nd half of the 20th century, during that awful, terrible Industrial Revolution... Plus, all the articles and stories about the effects of our aging population...

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 11:46 AM, Coquant wrote:

    The author is grossly mistaken if he believes the U.S. oil companies can "protect" the American consumer from higher oil prices, nor are they "salivating" over the prospect of higher oil prices. That demonstrates a misinformed perspective, and at worst, willful ignorance.

    Fact: over 90% of worldwide oil reserves are controlled by national (government controlled) oil companies. (See Saudi, Kenya, Nigeria, Venezuala, Mexico, Kuwait, Iran.....). The Saudi's, who are the dominant swing producers, have already determined that $100 per barrel oil best meets their financial needs, and they control output to support that floor in pricing. The floor influences prices worldwide--period.

    (Notwithstanding that today's WTI is trading at a discount to that $100 price, and at a $9 discount to Brent. U.S. natural gas is trading at a 70% discount per BTU to what Asian countries are willing to pay.)

    Fact: Since all oil (like many other commodities) worldwide is traded in U.S. dollars, any reduction in the value of the dollar will result in an increase in oil prices. As the federal reserve continues to pump dollars into the economy, oil prices will automatically reflect that value reduction through higher prices.

    Therefore, a more critical driver in approaching $5.00 fuel is QE1, QE2 and QE3. Remember, that fuel and food prices are not included in the inflation calculation--and any consumer can see that while grocery prices have increased dramatically over the past couple of years, the fed reports very low inflation.

    Fact: due to the over-supply situation in Cushing OK where WTI prices are set) U.S. oil prices have traded at a discount to prices on the coasts and the rest of the world. East, West and Gulf coast refiners have paid as much as a $20 per barrel premium for crude oil (shipped via tankers) than what midwestern refiners have paid. Only in the last year have midwestern supplies made their way to East and Gulf coast refineries--and recently to the West Coast, resulting in lower crude prices to those refineries.

    Fact: the greatest beneficiaries of higher oil prices are typically state government--especially those who tax gasoline as a percent of the retail price (see CA, NY, IL). Federal and state taxes comprise about 50 cents on each gallon of fuel--where oil companies, after production, refining and transportation costs receive a fraction of that amount. The typical gross margin at the retail station is less than 10 cents/gallon. So, it's government that is the greatest beneficiary of increasing fuel prices, not including the severance taxes each state collects on every barrel of oil or mcf of gas produced (often exceeding 10% of the wellhead price). In today's market that equals in excess of $9 per barrel or 21 cents per gallon. Look up your total tax burden on each gallon of fuel and you will see totals pushing 70 cents per gallon.

    The major oil companies cannot "protect" consumers from taxation. Name one other industry that gets bashed when prices increase. Surely not Apple, when you pay $500 for a device that costs <$100 to manufacture. Notwithstanding the fact that most Americans are oil company shareholders via their mutual funds, IRA's and 40lK's.

    Fact: It's also important to note that most, if not all, U.S. oil companies pay more in taxes each year than what they earn in profits. While higher oil prices may(!) translate to higher profits, it surely translates into higher taxes.

    Fact: oil is consumed as part of the refining process and is reflected in the cost to produce a gallon of fuel. One only has to look back to the days of $125 (2010) oil to see refineries were unprofitable at that time. High oil prices do not always translate to higher profits, as consumption typically declines as prices approach $4.00 per gallon. Even the Saudi's acknowledge this, and as a swing producer they try to manage supply and prices to sustain demand.

    As for the diatribe regarding hydraulic stimulation ("fracking") and the environment, science overrides emotion. There is not one documented case (even the EPA's investigations in Pennsylvania prove this) of fracking compromising ground water. And, that's over one million wells completed since the 1940's (yes, the process has been around that long). Objective science only serves to reinforce the safety of hydraulic stimulation. While one can raise the issue of the water resources used, the industry is addressing that through recycling of produced water and waste disposal management. (This is not a new initiative, as companies have managed this effort for literally a decade or more.)

    The U.S. importing 2 million barrels per day less than three years ago--predominantly from Africa and Venezuela. That's $1.8 billion per day we don't send to other countries. For the first time since 1993 we produce more than we import.

    By 2017, if the federal government has our interests in mind, we could be North America crude oil independent. That includes the 2.0 million barrels a day we would no longer import from the Persian Gulf.

    Think about the high paying jobs that $600 billion in balance of trade payments would create versus sending that money overseas.

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 11:56 AM, Johny205 wrote:

    If you have ever been to the bakken area of North Dakota, you would realize hardly anybody lives there--except the construction workers and rough necks. Take Watford City for example: 5 years ago the population was 1,100 and now it is 11,000. These are not people moving there permanently; these are large man camps that are only there to work. Most of North Dakota is a windy, flat, cold, boring landscape that has old falling down barns and ghost towns from everybody moving out of the area. The oil boom is great for North Dakota and even if there is contamination going on, the excellent economy more than offsets some contaminated soil in an area nobody lives in anyways.

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 11:59 AM, Johny205 wrote:

    ^^ Ten years ago a house in the Bakken Area was probably worth $40,000 and now would be worth $200,000 + So if the residents are concerned about the water or soil, they should sell their house, for a huge profit, and move somewhere more desirable.

  • Report this Comment On June 14, 2013, at 12:34 PM, LegalizeMe wrote:

    "Two words will make $5 gasoline a reality: Quantitative Easing." - hbofbyu

    Ding ding ding! What do we have for him Johnny?!

  • Report this Comment On June 15, 2013, at 3:00 AM, LAURABB wrote:

    $4.92 at the Waikoloa Beach Shell Station today.

  • Report this Comment On June 15, 2013, at 8:39 PM, moneyriot wrote:

    Gas is cheap in the USA. Look around to the WORLD and see what gas cost without government supports. Sure gas is taxed, it has to to pay for the damned roads. Does anyone hear think the roads don't get used and need repaid. How about the bridges? And new roads? Americans think they have a national birthright to cheap gas forever.

  • Report this Comment On June 16, 2013, at 12:52 AM, interdependent wrote:

    Pretend you are a Marvel superhero at the climax of the latest summer blockbuster. The evil psychopaths are two minutes away from successfully wiping out life on Earth.

    What would you do to save the entire planet? Your kids, pets, house, purple mountains, favorite band, everything, sea to shining sea, the whole planet is depending on you.

    Is there anything you wouldn't do? Any risk you wouldn't take? How much would it be worth to you to stop the final annihilation of life on earth?

    Silly superhero question: Would you invest part of your retirement portfolio in the villain’s corporation? How much are shares of a planet-killing corporation worth?

    Guess what? That's your choice. For realz y'all, no movie script. Your super-simple superhero task? Change your behavior, starting with your investments, before it's too late.

    Ask your superhero self, Will I divest from fossil fuels and get everybody else to do the same? Can we leave carbon in the ground to save life on Earth?

    You can use a simple toolkit online to divest.

    Join 300 "Fossil Free" campaigns today at universities, schools, churches, cities, private foundations to examine the true costs of our carbon investments.

    Why divest? Like during Apartheid in South Africa, divestment successfully draws attention to change a corrupt system. "Today," as a minister recently wrote, "the American economy is as entangled in fossil fuels as it was in slavery in the 1850's."

    The Carbon Bubble

    The fossil fuel industry has enough carbon in reserves currently on the books to overheat the planet past the red line FIVE times over. Energy producers must leave at least 80% of reserves in the ground if humans want to survive this mess.

    The industry must agree to do business in light of climate science:

    • They need immediately to stop exploring for new hydrocarbons.

    • They need to stop lobbying in Washington and state capitols across the country to preserve their special breaks.

    • Most importantly, they need to pledge to keep 80% of their current reserves underground forever.

    Forget the energy renaissance, Arctic drilling, hydro-fracking technology, forget new exploration when you can't safely burn 20% of the stuff you've already got.

    Shareholder’s Report

    Can we properly value a corporation based on how much carbon they hold and refine, if 80% of it must be preserved underground? In reports they forecast producing more regardless of the 6th great mass extinction. That's right, we're now losing species faster than when the dinosaurs went extinct. Look it up.

    At the rate we're burning carbon, we can only risk another 16 - 17 years of dirty energy at most. Are you planning on living another 20 years? I am. It's going to be a different world. Before 2050 a fossil-free world. I can't wait.

    Are you going to divest your carbon holdings now that you know, while you can make a difference? Smart.

    We immediately initiate this difficult but feasible rapid transition away from carbon, as the International Energy Agency recommended this week in their report. Redrawing the Energy- Climate Map.

    Scientists predict 6 - 8% reductions every year going forward starting in 2013 will get CO2 back to levels for which life is adapted, below 350ppm. Delay until 2020 to start? 15% annual reductions, cost the world trillions more, meanwhile risk runaway climate feedbacks. A morally bankrupt choice, by anybody’s accounting.

    When we do finally act to stop Rex Tillerson from driving our entire civilization headlong into an abyss, how much will that 10 - 15% annually declining production move Exxon's stock price?

    Only one industry removes carbon from where it's been safely stored underground for millions of years. There is no way to drill, frack, strip mine, or blow up mountains sustainably.

    My grand-kids will not want that stock at any price. I can’t retire on money from the very corporations who are determined to make our children’s future suffering as difficult as possible to keep their share prices high.

    I'm a conservative; I want to preserve my planet as it was when I grew up. I teach my kids, “You make a mess, you clean it up.” Simple. Leave the earth living for someone else to enjoy.

    Radicals tell the public that you can't trust greedy NASA scientists, and we can "adapt" to a changed climate. Radicals pay lobbyists to re-write the laws, as if they can break the laws of physics and nature. Radicals accelerate the uncontrolled climate experiment they are running with our only planet. 90 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution every day! That’s geo-engineering!

    When will they stop? That completely depends on you and me.

    I'm a carbon addict in recovery. Since W was in the White House I haven't needed gas for my car. Since we heat our house carbon-free, we disconnected the gas line. I eat no meat, drink tap water, buy local. But my individual carbon footprint (20% of an avg American) will only protect my kids once I get you to lower yours too.

    I’m that superhero. I shape the future of life on Earth. And you do too! Because we are the generation that goes into history books for doing something no other generation has ever had to do: We rescue life as we know it from certain disaster. We do it by getting everybody on the same team. We transform our planet without killing anybody. We'll do it this decade, because that's all the time we've got. We'll do it because NOT doing it, NOT giving it everything we've got, NOT saving millions of years of biodiversity and thousands of years of human civilization and everything you ever cared about... that's NOT an option! Not when we humans are the ones causing the trouble. Not doing our best to clean up our mess would leave us all a little bit less human.

    One way to stop the madness? Join the Fossil Free campaign. Divest all holdings from these rogue corporations whose business success ends life on Earth.

    Let's look at how to live well, not large. Live simply that others may simply live. Give them a future to look forward to, a future they can love. Live a life that gives life, for others. Let's all leave something behind we can be proud of.

    "The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you never intend to sit."

    Happy Father's Day!

  • Report this Comment On August 09, 2013, at 9:39 PM, hemifan426 wrote:

    The US and most of the world is and has been in depression since 08 or earlier. Until oil and gas drop, it will stay that way. 3 buck a gallon gas has failed miserably and will continue to do so. 5 buck a gallon and the world quits running. Europes gas is 1 and a half time what it was and the US gas is 3 times what it was. There is zero justification for the increase in oil and gas. 5 years ago, both were half what they are now. Basic economics don't change because of greed and a liberal, state-controlled press. The depression and the denial surrounding it don't change the fact that it exists. Inflation is through the roof and real unemployment is 22% or higher. Wages are down and diving, part-time, benefitless jobs are the new norm. Their is even less money in the economy. Until the issues are dealt with, treason boy is out of office and the fools in this country get rid of the cancerous incumbants, the decline will continue.

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