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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Experts Debate Concern Over Source of Gas

Experts Debate Concern Over Source of Gas

Published: May 3, 2006

Filed at 10:56 p.m. ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) — President Bush has called for a 75 percent reduction in Middle Eastern oil imports by 2025. But drivers trying to get a jump on that goal by avoiding certain gas stations are finding there are no guarantees they are really avoiding oil from the Persian Gulf.

In fact, it's nearly impossible to determine where a particular service station gets its gasoline because crude oil that is refined into gas is traded among companies on a global market, said Jonathan Cogan, a spokesman for the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

''Brand X or Brand Y across the street from each other may very well be getting their gasoline from the same refinery,'' Cogan said.

Many motorists patronize certain stations for fuel additives designed to improve performance. Those additives are added at distribution terminals just before the gas is loaded on tankers for delivery to specific stations.

With spiking gas prices prompting drivers to look hard for the cheapest gas, it's harder than ever to persuade motorists to worry about its source. But national security experts say they should, because the U.S. reliance on Mideast oil forces the country to defend its oil interests in Iraq and other hostile territory. Some foreign policy hawks also accuse oil-rich governments of sharing their wealth with radical Islamic groups and terrorists.

Others say that thinking is misguided. The best way for Americans to staunch the flow of Middle Eastern oil imports is to drive less, said Anne Korin, chair of the Set America Free Coalition, which supports greater energy independence.

''Boycotting a particular gas station is a feel-good gesture that has zero impact on flow of petrodollars to the Middle East,'' she said.

One error-laden but widely circulated e-mail calls on consumers to boycott companies such as Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. saying they import too much from the Middle East. It suggests buying instead from companies like Citgo Petroleum Corp., which it incorrectly says imports no Mideast oil.

Citgo is indirectly owned by Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company of Venezuela, which is a founding member of OPEC and the fourth-largest supplier of U.S. oil imports in 2005.

About half of Citgo's oil comes from Venezuela and the rest from the ever-changing spot market, which includes oil from sources including the Middle East, according to Citgo spokesman Fernando Garay.

Still, Citgo imports significantly less Middle Eastern oil than other major branded retailers such as Shell, BP PLC, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon Mobil, according to government statistics tracked by the trade publication National Petroleum News.

Citgo got about 1 percent of its oil, or 528,000 barrels, in the first half of last year from the Mideast, according to the federal government.

Some analysts disagree with the notion that Middle Eastern oil is any less politically desirable than oil from other parts of the world, noting that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is one of the harshest critics of American policies.

''Who's to say that oil from Angola or Russia or wherever isn't any worse than oil from the Middle East?'' said Lysle Brinker, senior vice president of oil and gas industry consulting firm John S. Herold. ''There's oppressive dictatorships and non-democratic regimes anywhere.''


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