Unexpectedly Intriguing!
10 August 2006

The question seems obvious given all the news coverage related to the price of oil and the geopolitics related to its supply, not to mention the seemingly endless whining about SUVs on the roads of the United States from environmentalists, but really, how much gasoline is supplied to the average American, and how has that changed over time? Are individual Americans consuming more or less gas than they did in years past?

To find out, we first tapped the information available at the U.S. Energy Information Agency, which provided a nifty table showing the thousands of barrels of finished motor gasoline supplied to gas stations across the U.S. from 1945 through 2005.

Then, we consulted the estimates of the U.S. population over the same period provided by the U.S. Census Bureau (which we used in our previous tool for estimating the size of the U.S. population from 1900 through 2020.) Taking the total number of barrels of gasoline divided by the population provided the amount of gasoline supplied per capita in the U.S. shown in our chart below:

As can be seen in the chart, the amount of gasoline supplied per American in the U.S. rose steadily from 4.14 barrels per year in 1945 to a peak value of 12.2 barrels per year in 1978. Then, consumption fell off dramatically, reaching a low of 10.3 barrels per year in 1982. Since then, consumption has increased slowly, peaking in 1988 at 11 barrels per capita, dropping back to 10.4 barrels per capita in 1991, then rising slowly again to 11.3 barrels per capita in 1999 and holding essentially level ever since around 11.2 barrels per capita.

What that all means of course is that since 1999, even with the addition of some 26.4 million people to the U.S. population, Americans have become pretty good at conserving gasoline. In fact, the average American of 2005 got along on one full barrel less than the average American of 1978.

Maybe those whining environmentalists should turn their attention to more practical matters, like fighting clean energy producing wind farms....

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