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Mapping oil usage

From the Natural Resources Defense Council

America buys 18.8 million barrels of petroleum products every day, accounting for more than 20% of all global usage. This can drain roughly $1 billion on average every day out of the economy. This oil use also accounts for more than a quarter of the heat-trapping carbon pollution emitted by various sources in the U.S.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters developed an interest in a more detailed understanding for the causes of our addiction. Specifically, we were curious about which geographic areas were most oil dependent, and thus, driving the country’s oil addiction the most.

First, we looked at all the total 2010 oil consumption in every county in the United States. We visualized that oil consumption in the map below.

gasoline consumption map.JPG

We can determine the nation’s oil addiction “hot spots” based on the figures plotted in the map above. It turns out a disproportionately small number of counties in metropolitan regions drive the nation’s oil use. In fact, just 108 counties out of the nation’s 3,144, or about 3.5% of the total consume more than 10% of the nation’s oil. This suggests that we should target policies and practices aimed at reducing oil dependence to a small geographic portion of the nation.

Consumption per person in these top oil-guzzling counties can give help further with targeting; those counties with high per-capita consumption levels afford the biggest opportunities for reductions. For example, Los Angeles County’s population is much larger than Dallas County’s, on average each person consumed much less in the former. If the per capita consumption in the latter were halved, while still higher than the average Los Angeleno it could save more than a half-million gallons of gasoline a year! 

Top 10 Counties Driving Our Oil Addiction

RankingofCounties.JPG*Note: The Missouri figures stood out as an outlier in the data set, possibly due to poor or inconsistent reporting so both on the map and in this table the numbers should be taken with a giant grain of salt.

On the other hand the Houston area and Dallas area are particularly addicted to oil, both in total and per person use. To find out more about where your county stacks up in this picture, click here to access and use a cool googlemap designed by friends at the Sierra Club.

I went looking for this after spotting this Express News story and figuring there had to be more to it than that. DC Streetsblog adds on to the conversation, but I have to agree with their commenters that per capita consumption is the better way to think of this. Still, it’s useful information and a reminder that another spike in gas prices will have a greater effect on the Houston area than other parts of the country. A growth strategy geared towards more and more development of the exurbs just isn’t going to be sustainable in the long term.

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4 Comments

  1. Peter Wang says:

    The forces working against conservation in Harris and Bexar are… as oil prices goes up, people in these Counties get wealthier, and then are less exposed to the prices increases, are more inclined to buy tricked-out 10 MPG trucks just for the heck of it, drive 85 MPH, etc.

  2. Bill Shirley says:

    @Peter and/or buy big houses in the ‘burbs, i.e. commute longer distances.

    As they tip their hat in the end of the article, these numbers would be MUCH more interesting as per-capita numbers. And for mapping purposes, I might blend neighboring county numbers in to the county numbers at a 1:4 ratio (just a guess) to account for those who commute regularly between counties – basically more “regionalize” the data.

  3. Tyson Sowell says:

    It’s interesting to identify where most oil is being consumed but it should be no surprise. Of course high population centers are going to use the most oil. The real use of this map would be to look at per capita usage to encourage policies that would not necessarily target population centers but counties with high per capita usage.

    For example, Harris Co. has a per capita gas consumption of 328.75 which is low compared to that of Kimble Co., TX. with a per capita consumption of 1581.09.

    To say that metropolitan areas are “oil guzzling” areas is unfair considering the population density. I would argue that residents in Kimble Co. are “oil guzzlers” not Harris County residents. Does this mean that Harris County shouldn’t work to do better? Absolutely not. But it does mean that the opportunity for the greatest savings is in the rural areas.

  4. Robert Nagle says:

    I am very curious why people in LA use significantly less gasoline per capita than drivers in Houston. LA County has 9.8 million people. Cook county has 5.4 million and Harris has 4.0 million. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_populous_counties_in_the_United_States LA county has 10 million sq km, Cook has 2.4 and Harris has 4.4 million sq km.

    It would seem that LA would have to be significantly poorer and be using a more developed mass transit system for those numbers to add up. Chuck, do you have any guesses about what’s going on?

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