Cooling Off Our Oil Hot Spots

The basic facts about our dependence on oil are troubling. Burning oil is changing our climate and it threatens our health and environment. We use about 18 million barrels of petroleum products every day with about two-thirds of that going to keep our transportation system moving – with cars and light trucks being the biggest driver for our oil appetite. So what would this oil dependence look like county by county on a map, in aggregate or per capita? Could such a map help us assess which solutions will work best to address oil hot spots – those places using the most oil? We took a look.

Our maps (done with NRDC and League of Conservation Voters) can be seen here. It turns out that of the 3,144 counties in the U.S., 108 of them use 10 percent of the oil.

Population is a key driver with counties in Texas, California, Florida, the Northeast, and Chicago popping out as red hot spots for aggregate annual oil consumption. However, a map of how much oil each person is using is quite different. Suddenly those dense and populous counties – many with transit systems and walkable communities – are quite green and counties in the middle of the country suddenly become angry red.

Eighty percent of the population now lives in metropolitan areas where distances between destinations are shorter and transportation choices make driving, or even car ownership, optional. Increasing transportation choices and access to existing transit, making walking and biking safer, and better planning can cool off the large metropolitan area hot spots.

Those living in angry hotspots in the Midwest and northern plains will find relief in the fuel efficiency automakers are now bragging about, which will continue to improve as standards double fuel efficiency and cut carbon pollution from new vehicles in half. These standards will have a significant impact on oil consumption for those who do need to drive. Ultimately, using less oil nationwide will mean more transportation choices: more transit, more safe biking and walking, and more efficient vehicles when we do drive. We need to cool off our oil hot spots.


Ann Mesnikoff is Green Transportation Campaign Director of the Sierra Club