New study ranks states by their dependence on oil

A new study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that drivers in rural states are spending on almost twice as much of their incomes as their more urban counter parts on gas. The study, the sixth annual “Fighting Oil Addiction: Ranking States’ Gasoline Price Vulnerability and Solutions for Change,” by NRDC and David Gardiner & Associates, also found a wide gulf between states that help travelers by promoting public transit (bus, shuttles, trains or light rail), smart growth and fuel efficiency, compared to states that do little or nothing to expand less oil dependent forms of transportation.

The NRDC report finds that oil dependence affects drivers in all states, but it hits some harder than others. Drivers in every state paid a higher percentage of their income for gas in 2011 than in 2010. Drivers in 42 states were affected more in 2011 by gas costs than during the previous peak of vulnerability in 2008. And on the state level, some states are pioneers in reducing oil dependence, but many states are taking few meaningful steps.

According to the report, residents in Mississippi spent the most on gas, with West Virginia and South Carolina following close behind. Residents of each of these states pay over 8% of their income on gas. For the top ten most expensive states, drivers are all spending above 7%. Report authors note that the picture for bringing these costs down is generally bleak – “while some states are pioneering solutions and many are taking some action, many states are still taking few, if any, of the steps listed in this report to reduce their oil dependence.” The report calls on states to adopt measures like improving public transportation systems or promoting fuel efficient vehicles, but for rural states little of that infrastructure currently exists.

The states doing the most for fuel efficiency are some of the smallest, and most well outfitted in terms of public transportation they include: California; Oregon; Washington; Massachusetts; New York; Connecticut; Maine; Maryland; Rhode Island, and Vermont. While those doing the least to improve their fuel efficiency represent some of the largest states and are also areas with additional strategic concerns, like military installations or large stores of the nation’s food supply. The worst states for fuel efficiency are: Nebraska; Alaska; Mississippi; Idaho; North Dakota; Arkansas; Indiana; South Dakota; Wyoming, and Kansas. Surprisingly, many of the states on this list also account for much of the country’s domestic oil and natural gas production.

However, much of the national gas price is still dictated by global oil demand, and broader macroeconomic conditions outside the US. As of this writing, Oil prices were up 2.5% the highest price since mid-October, fueled by supply concerns as violence in the Middle East escalated and as investors grew more hopeful that a U.S. budget crisis will be averted, according to Reuters. The US is also on pace to become the worlds largest oil producer by 2020, bolstered by moves in the Obama administration to improve oil production. Still, a national infrastructure that relies on expanding lanes for traffic, rather than providing better transit options means that the US will likely continue to lag behind other countries in terms of oil dependency. As this website reported earlier today, efforts to get initiatives like high speed rail off the ground have been met with limited success as many states opted out of efficiency.

“The truth is, we must continue fighting to reduce our dependence on oil,” said Deron Lovaas, NRDC’s federal transportation policy director. “Whether it’s by states advancing public transit, clean fuels and smart growth, or by the government supporting development of advanced vehicles and actions that save oil, more steps must be taken to end an addiction that harms our wallets, economy and environment.”

Image Source: NRDC; The full report can be seen here.