U.S. Gasoline Usage Peaked In 2006, Will Plummet In Future

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Even if you may not have heard of the Peak Oil theory, everyone knows that we'll continue to use more and more gasoline in years to come. Right?

Well, errrrr, no. Maybe not.

At least, that's the conclusion of both industry analysts and the oil companies themselves. The peak year for U.S. gasoline consumption to date was 2006, when we collectively used 374 million gallons every single day.

Since then, a combination of factors--some temporary, like the recent recession, but others permanent--has cut demand and will continue to do so in future years. This year's use fell 8 percent from that 2006 figure.

Even with as many as 27 million more vehicles on the road in 10 years and a resumption of economic growth, says the experts, gasoline consumption will never again hit that 2006 high. In fact, 20 years hence, it may have fallen as much as 20 percent from today's levels.

Old Gas Pumps

Old Gas Pumps

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The causes for the decline are many:

High fuel costs, from the 2008 price spike that scared the public and caused us to buy more fuel-efficient cars to soaring demand from China;

Gas-mileage laws, which begin tightening for 2012 and will rise to more than 30 mpg for 2016, will equal the impact of taking 30 million cars off the road;

Changing vehicle preferences, as consumers swapped truck-based sport utility vehicles for more efficient car-based crossovers;

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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Ethanol in gasoline, now at 10 percent, could rise to 15 percent or perhaps even more (despite a lawsuit today against the E15 mandate); 

Plug-in cars that use far less gasoline, or none at all, like the just-launched electric 2011 Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, are now entering the vehicle fleet;  and

Lower average driving distances, as suburban expansion slows and baby boomers begin to retire in big numbers.

Some of these factors may cause grumbling, of course. The smaller, much more efficient engines that will be needed to raise gas mileage may cost more than today's larger, lazier, simpler engines.

Also, as the percentage of ethanol in gasoline rises, average miles-per-gallon on the new blends will fall, because ethanol has less energy per gallon than does gasoline.

And that doesn't even get into the politically challenging questions of a Congressional mandate on how much ethanol must be used, and the impacts of making ethanol from a food crop like corn.

Still, the pace of automotive evolution has never been entirely smooth. And a decline in U.S. gasoline consumption even as it soars elsewhere in the world (China, hello?) is bound to be good news.

[AP via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

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Comments (11)
  1. You said, "Even with as many as 27 million more vehicles on the road in 10 years and a resumption of economic growth, says the experts, gasoline consumption will never again hit that 2006 high. In fact, 20 years hence, it may have fallen as much as 20 percent from today's levels."
    You really don't understand peak oil. You should study it. It is silly to say that we may have 27 million more cars on the road in 20 years. Silly!

  2. The silence in the press over E-Car performance in real life / real weather conditions is almost deafening. I wonder if E-cars will just be a summer time vehicle ? This industry needs to go cold turkey on government subsidies, so it can enter the real world. By the way, a recession is not an efficient solution for energy/oil demand management, as unemployed people tend to find work that is further afield from their previous line of work (based on previous recessions) - resulting in longer more energy intensive journeys.

  3. I didn't realize that the ethonal blend rate had made it up that high. I knew it was allowed to be up to 10%, but didn't know it was being done.
    Interesting that ethanol blending causes our MPG to drop. E10 has 96% of the energy as straight gasoline. E15 has 94% of the energy content. Given the dubious energy return on energy invested, not sure if ethanol is worth it.

  4. @Prof Baldwin - the petroleum-based fuels industry benefits from direct and indirect subsidies from the American taxpayer to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year. Some of these subsides take the form of tax breaks to oil companies. The larger indirect subsides include America's maintenance of a military that is larger than that of all the other nations in the world combined, and which over the past two decades has been heavily involved in wars that would not have happened if we were not addicted to oil. It's not reasonable to expect alternatives such as EVs to compete without subsidies against petroleum-based transportation that is massively subsidized.

  5. The "Peak Demand" discussion is an interesting compliment to "Peak Oil". I would caution those who believe that we have seen the permanent peak in 2006 that we should remember the same kind of comments during the late 1970's/early 1980's when US oil consumption dropped from the price increases of the 1970's, more efficient cars, and the grid generators abandoning oil. It may take up to 20+ years to reach the same level, but with modest economic and population growth, it would seem inevitable that if the oil is available at a reasonable price, it will be consumed. People should also consider the "paradox of thrift". The more we seek and deploy alternatives such as PEVs, the more spare supply capacity there may be of oil, which then drives down the price of oil, which then over time may eventually increase the demand for oil (again). Given the energy density and other advantages of oil, it would seem that the only way that overall consumption to be permanently reduced will be a permanent decline in supply or serious policy actions.

  6. Report Fail!
    Peak Oil is based on GLOBAL oil consumption not just the US. Peak oil is still very real with Chine, India, Brazil and other putting 30-50M cars on the road every yr. Wake up and smell the global coffee, you myopic child.

  7. Research ALL the facts before posting an article...it will give more credence to what you propose as a valid theory. America is not the center of the universe. The developing nations such as China, India, Brazil and the like with take gasoline usage through the stratosphere. America start educating yourself by listening to other media sources than those emanating from the one sided american media. Article was laughable!

  8. I'm getting the Volt in a few months as a band-aid for when cheap conventional oil begins it's decline. I've been preparing my family for Peak Oil for 5 years now and made some short video's to show people what they can do. I attached one here.

  9. There are plenty of good uses for petroleum products that don't involve the massive stupidity of BURNING it.
    If oil prices become low in the future, or remain relatively affordable, of course we'll continue to use it. But, it would be greatly disappointing if we were just continuing to send it up in smoke.

  10. Who cares about US oil usage? I'm pretty sure the peak oil 'theory' is a global thing.
    This article is dumb.

  11. Now that no one wants to fly and get groped or shot with cancer causing radiation I think driving might go up a bit.
    Of course inflation and job losses will prevent many from even going on a vacation so this effect will be minimal.

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