Stuck in the Sand

National Transportation Policy At Odds With National Security

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Stuck in the Sand

National Transportation Policy At Odds With National Security

Drivers in sprawling southern cities with few transportation options are forced to send more of their gasoline dollars abroad, including to Middle East oil producers where an unknown amount of oil money flows to anti-American extremists. Amid rising gas prices and calls for energy independence, an original Environmental Working Group analysis of oil dependence by metro area underscores the urgent need to broaden transportation options for gridlocked, car-dependent communities in order to decrease reliance on Middle East oil sources and increase national security over the long haul.


The recently passed transportation bill actually worsens the historic 80/20 imbalance in federal highway and transit funding by shaving transit's share by a quarter of one percent, or about $700 million over the life of the bill. Prior to the 1992 passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act, or ISTEA, the ratio was even less favorable to transit, with one estimate putting the 1950 through 1980 federal spending ratio at 75 to 1 in favor of highways (Jackson 1985).

Persian Gulf nations control two-thirds of the world's oil reserves and would continue to influence prices and supply even if the U.S. obtained its oil elsewhere (Financial Times 2005, EIA Primer on Gasoline 2005, PBS 1996). But the goal of reducing dependence on Middle East oil is well worth pursuing, both on the merits of minimizing national dependence on energy from a highly volatile region, and for its motivational power for the American people. Moreover, the goal is plausible. Americans depend on foreign sources for 65 percent of their gasoline, but only 15 percent of U.S. consumption comes from the Middle East.

The public debate over "energy independence" has largely revolved around expanding domestic production and improving vehicle fuel economy. But the extremely limited domestic petroleum sources that remain cannot possibly break America's Middle East oil habit, and developing them comes at a high environmental cost. At the same time, neither Congress nor the Administration have had the political courage to force the auto industry to improve fuel economy, which is long overdue.

Reversing the historic imbalance in highway and transit funding provides another route by which America can significantly enhance national security and help wean the nation from its outsized dependence on oil. Just as building the interstate highway system was a top national security goal in the 1950s and 60's, a diversified transportation system that depends less on highways, oil, and its incumbent military entanglements must be a core national security objective today.

Drivers in Southern Cities Send The Most Money to Middle East Oil Producers


Ten Most Oil-Dependent Metro Areas

Metro Area Household Dollars to Middle East, Per Year Metro Area Dollars to Middle East, Per Year
Nashville, TN $314 $157,740,000
Jacksonville, FL $302 $136,319,000
Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC $301 $154,258,000
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX $299 $575,826,000
Atlanta, GA $289 $450,700,000
Denver-Boulder-Greeley, CO $279 $284,245,000
Memphis, TN-AR-MS $259 $111,551,000
Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC $257 $164,756,000
Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, TX $246 $410,065,000
Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA $246 $95,052,000

Source: EWG, compiled from U.S. Department of Energy, 2005, and U.S. Department of Transportation 2003 and 2001.

LINK: Full list of the top 50 metro areas


Stuck in the Sand is a first-of-its-kind analysis that combines U.S. data on driving and energy to show how much each driver in the 50 largest metro areas spends on Middle East oil each year. The analysis used federal data on the number of drivers per household to calculate how much money an average household spends on gasoline each year.


The investigation found that highway dependent metro areas that have grown rapidly during the past 30 years use the most gasoline per driver, and by extension, households in these areas send the most money per driver to Middle East oil producers. Southern cities topped the list with eight of the top 10 metro areas. On average, households in the top five metro areas — Nashville, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Dallas and Atlanta — send between $314 and $289 to the Middle East each year.

In areas with a greater commitment to rail and other transit, people send far less money to the Middle East. An average household in New York, Philadelphia or Boston sends between $132 and $187 per year to the Middle East.

Residents in oil dependent metro areas are the victims of 50 years of bad transportation policies that have severely constrained transportation options and facilitated sprawling development with huge distances between work, school, and play. The analysis shows that an efficient, well-funded, diversified transportation system could cut dependence on Middle East oil and go a long way to advancing national security.

  • In metro areas where households send $215 a year or more to Middle East oil producers, the average driver takes transit — bus or rail — an average of 22 times per year. Where drivers spend less than $215 on Middle East oil, they average 54 transit trips per year.
  • In the five metro areas most dependent on Middle East oil, the average driver drives more than 15,200 miles per year, nearly twice as far as the drivers in the five least oil dependent cities, who average just 8,300 miles per year.
  • Only four of the 25 most oil dependent metro areas have more than two miles of commuter rail track per 100,000 drivers. Only one, San Diego, has more than five. Eleven of the 25 least oil dependent metro areas have more than two miles of rail track per 100,000 drivers, and seven have more than five.



When President Eisenhower called for construction of the Interstate Highway System, he did so on the basis of national security. Today our national security interests are quite different, and they demand a very different approach to transportation spending.

A diversified transportation system and a diversified energy system are essential and mutually reinforcing to national security objectives. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and in the midst of the continuing violence in Iraq, Americans are looking for leadership and action to give us a greater measure of economic and diplomatic flexibility in our dealings with the Middle East.

Transportation policy must help cut dependence on any single energy source and provide more options to get people from point A to point B. This means diversifying the current system, and creating more choices for people. Given the current imbalance in transportation options and spending, reaching this goal will require a very high level of spending on rail and transit over the next several decades. In light of our current national security needs and our historic indulgence in highway construction, a substantial reorientation of priorities is not only justified, it is required.


Fueling Our Foreign Oil Addiction

The results presented here are largely a measure of metro area oil dependence, which in turn translates into foreign oil dependence, a portion of which is sent directly to Middle Eastern states. Transportation and growth policies of the last half century are the root cause of this insatiable oil appetite, which has surged to levels far beyond those that can be met with domestic supplies.

Middle East oil dependence has increased steadily over the past 20 years as highways have energized sprawling development, created longer commutes, and ultimately lead to more time spent stuck in traffic in just about every American community. According to the Texas Transportation InstituteÕs 2005 Urban Mobility Report, congestion grew more severe and longer in duration in urban areas of every size between 1982 and 2003 (TTI 2005).

While at first glance, these problems might appear to be the result of simple population growth, a closer look reveals that transportation and land use policies are largely to blame. Between 1982 and 1997, the amount of urbanized land in the United States grew from 51 million acres to about 76 million acres, an increase of 47 percent. Meanwhile, the number of vehicle miles traveled increased by 55 percent. Yet over the same time period, the population grew by only 17 percent (Fulton et al. 2001, ALBD 2005). From 1960 to 1990, the percentage of workers with jobs outside their county of residence grew three-fold while the percentage of workers working in the county where they lived declined (ALBD 2005). What these figures indicate is that our roads are filling up because people are driving more as a result of development and transportation policies that leave huge distances between destinations and give people no alternative but to get behind the wheel.

Building more roads has not made daily transportation better and, in fact, may have contributed to congestion while locking us into even greater Middle East oil dependency. Smart Growth America reported that Òcommunities that have built the most roads have had no more success in keeping congestion in check than areas that have not added much road capacity." (SGA 2005).

As a result of our development and transportation policies, foreign oil dependence has soared. In 2004, foreign sources accounted for a record 58 percent of total petroleum consumption (EIA Petroleum Trade 2005). As American drivers demand more and more oil, the federal government has granted oil and gas companies access to massive amounts of public lands in western states — some 229 million acres of public land, an area greater than Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona combined, according to an EWG analysis. Despite this access, public lands in the lower 48 states produced just 53 days of oil consumption between 1989 and 2003 (BLM 2004, MMS 2004).

America cannot drill its way to energy independence. In fact, the U.S. lacks the oil to come anywhere near to reducing dependence on Middle East sources, no matter how many of America's prized natural treasures are opened to destructive drilling. Even the much-touted Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not a panacea. The best government estimates are that the Arctic Wildlife Refuge contains about a year of recoverable oil at current consumption rates (USGS Arctic 1998).

Gulf nations control two-thirds of the world's oil reserves and would continue to influence prices even if the U.S. obtained its oil elsewhere (Financial Times 2005, EIA Primer on Gasoline 2005, PBS 1996). But the goal of independence from Middle East oil is still well worth pursuing, both on its merits and for its motivational power for the American people.

The Middle East is an extremely volatile region of the world. Disruptions to the world oil supply, such as a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, could push gasoline prices even higher than they are now (Bunch 2005, Kher 2005). In the case of a disruption, or even a continued steady rise in prices, people in the most gasoline-dependent metro areas would suffer the most, as price increases would be hardest to absorb.

In addition, efforts to reduce dependence on Middle East oil through smart transportation investments will create jobs at home that will make the U.S. economy more resistant to oil price surges. By investing anew in a diversified, transit-reinforced transportation system, we can build a U.S. economy that grants more time and opens more options for diplomatic engagement when oil-related Middle East crises flare.



In 1991, Congress passed a totally new transportation bill known as ISTEA, or the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act. ISTEA for the first time established an 80/20 split in federal support for highways and transit. For the previous 40 years, federal spending for highways over transit had been even more lopsided. According to one estimate, 75 percent of federal transportation funding in the post-World War II generation went to highways while only 1 percent flowed to transit (Jackson 1985). It is little wonder that cities that grew up during that time are the most dependent on Middle East oil.

To reverse course, equally massive investments in diversified transit systems with emphasis on rail are required. Experience shows that these investments will work.

Where metro areas have spent money on rail transit, ridership has exceeded estimates, even in cities like Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Denver, where rail systems had to be force-fit on top of highway oriented development patterns (Baird 2004, Van Eyck 2004, Reed 2005). To be sure, these cities still have limited transit options compared to roads. But the ridership trends suggest that a substantial portion of the population is eager for alternatives to driving — alternatives that could help to reduce Middle East oil consumption.

People everywhere appear ready for alternatives to driving. Denver residents, for example, voted overwhelmingly last year for a $4.7 billion, 119-mile expansion of the area's passenger rail system. Transit managers in Montgomery, Alabama; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Seattle have recently reported increases in ridership that may reflect concern over high gasoline prices (Thomas 2005, Nelesen 2005, Hummel 2005, Gaudette 2005).

Congress recently passed a $286.5 billion federal transportation bill that will fund transportation projects for the next six years. However, states have an important role to play in how this money is spent. In the coming years, states should:

In the future, the federal government should:

  1. Increase use of flexible federal funds for transit. Federal transportation rules allow states to spend a significant portion of their highway funds on transit projects but so far, most states have barely exercised this option (Puentes and Bailey 2003).
  2. End discriminatory state funding rules that prevent state gas tax dollars from being spent on transit projects. The Brookings Institution found in a 2003 report that 30 states had such rules. Investing gas taxes in transit makes sense because increased transit ridership eases congestion for drivers (Puentes and Bailey 2003).
  3. Ensure that transportation funding is equitable within states. When it comes to both federal and state funds, research shows that transportation dollars are spent disproportionately on outlying areas rather than on metro areas where most people live and pay taxes. Ensuring that metro areas get their fair share of funds is an important step toward alleviating the worst traffic problems and ensuring that local authorities can build energy-efficient transit systems (EWG 2004, Hill et al. 2003).
  4. Fund transit at the same level as highways, with an emphasis on rail. The current federal funding split of about 80 percent for highways and less than 19 percent for transit helps lock the nation into dependence on Middle East oil. Our goal should be a funding split of 50 on percent highways and 50 percent on energy-efficient transit, with an emphasis on rail. Not only does rail provide a direct benefit for those who use it, but it also frees up road space for drivers.

    Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich and coauthor William Lind wrote in a recent analysis that a particular advantage of rail transportation is that communities can develop around it. "A rail line, in contrast [to a bus line], is a fixed, high-value asset," they write. "A developer can invest in, say, a new office building near a rail transit line in confidence that twenty years from now, the rail line will still be there providing transit service...In one city after another, rail transit — Heavy Rail, Light Rail or commuter rail — has brought increased investment, higher property values, higher rents and more customers" (Weyrich and Lind 2001).
  5. Put transit on an equal playing field when it comes to federal transportation rules. The current system favors road projects over transit by requiring builders to jump through a series of additional hoops before a transit project can get off the ground (Beimborn and Puentes 2003).



Table 1. Drivers in Southern Cities Send
The Most Money to Middle East Oil Producers

  Metro Area (MSA) House-
to Middle
East, Per Year
Total Dollars to Middle East, Per Metro Area (MSA) Average
Miles Per Driver, Per Year
Miles Per Household, Per Year
1 Nashville, TN $314 $157,739,797 16,473 30,260
2 Jacksonville, FL $302 $136,318,855 13,905 29,102
3 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC $301 $154,257,728 15,204 29,016
4 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX $299 $575,826,429 15,665 28,894
5 Atlanta, GA $289 $450,699,938 14,848 27,932
6 Denver-Boulder-Greeley, CO $279 $284,244,606 14,278 26,943
7 Memphis, TN-AR-MS $259 $111,550,567 14,605 25,033
8 Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC $257 $164,755,751 13,416 24,802
9 Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, TX $246 $410,065,437 12,049 23,765
10 Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA $246 $95,052,192 12,739 23,700
11 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI $243 $307,292,586 12,152 23,477
12 Oklahoma City, OK $240 $68,511,780 13,575 23,115
13 Salt Lake City-Ogden, UT $236 $85,269,236 10,468 22,792
14 Kansas City, MO-KS $236 $168,828,528 11,857 22,785
15 Hartford, CT $232 $99,021,336 12,409 22,430
16 Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, NC $227 $136,598,664 12,353 21,932
17 Orlando, FL $224 $143,490,259 13,456 21,567
18 Phoenix-Mesa, AZ $223 $255,507,174 11,212 21,514
19 St. Louis, MO-IL $222 $213,846,706 11,873 21,428
20 San Diego, CA $218 $223,650,388 10,905 21,075
21 Columbus, OH $216 $133,240,954 12,351 20,872
22 Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, CA $216 $1,173,187,796 11,532 20,814
23 Sacramento-Yolo, CA $216 $172,880,579 11,318 20,800
24 Milwaukee-Racine, WI $214 $137,448,454 12,315 20,659
25 Portland-Salem, OR-WA $213 $177,730,603 11,426 20,539
26 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA $211 $593,568,399 11,885 20,325
27 Washington-Baltimore, DC-MD-VA-WV $209 $698,279,187 11,514 20,174
28 Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton, WA $205 $337,926,502 10,549 19,810
29 San Antonio, TX $205 $114,493,744 11,048 19,799
30 Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint, MI $202 $412,075,917 10,900 19,511
31 Rochester, NY $201 $88,119,144 10,736 19,369
32 Austin-San Marcos, TX $200 $98,223,362 10,531 19,303
33 New Orleans, LA $199 $102,451,589 10,439 19,233
34 Louisville, KY-IN $198 $76,222,075 11,583 19,154
35 Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, VA-NC $198 $140,381,268 10,086 19,133
36 Chicago-Gary-Kenosha, IL-IN-WI $196 $584,189,612 10,853 18,885
37 Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, MI $195 $77,838,750 9,593 18,825
38 Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL $194 $224,759,261 9,308 18,680
39 Cleveland-Akron, OH $193 $227,536,626 10,556 18,623
40 Cincinnati-Hamilton, OH-KY-IN $188 $165,937,167 11,058 18,175
41 Pittsburgh, PA $187 $170,155,031 11,620 18,083
42 Boston-Worcester-Lawrence, MA-NH-ME-CT $187 $433,165,234 10,153 18,016
43 Indianapolis, IN $185 $128,256,207 10,435 17,807
44 Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City, PA-NJ-DE-MD $179 $374,032,241 10,544 17,310
45 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL $174 $188,290,807 10,594 16,777
46 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY $159 $75,994,083 9,738 15,373
47 Las Vegas, NV-AZ $148 $91,870,659 8,111 14,298
48 Honolulu, HI $146 $41,867,734 7,051 14,077
49 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-CT-PA $132 $1,046,755,530 8,499 12,776
50 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, FL $127 $52,407,211 8,014 12,274

Source: U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation, 2005

Table 2. Population and Transit Use in the Top 50 Metro Areas

  Metro Area (MSA) Households in MSA MSA Population Rail Track Miles within MSA Rail & Bus Trips per Driver, Per Year
1 Nashville, TN 503,000 1,199,000 0 7
2 Jacksonville, FL 452,000 1,331,000 5 10
3 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 513,000 1,568,000 0 19
4 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 1,923,000 5,148,000 53 22
5 Atlanta, GA 1,557,000 4,433,000 104 48
6 Denver-Boulder-Greeley, CO 1,018,000 2,608,000 29 40
7 Memphis, TN-AR-MS 430,000 1,174,000 6 15
8 Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 641,000 1,652,000 0 4
9 Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, TX 1,665,000 4,651,000 5 28
10 Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA 387,000 1,021,000 0 23
11 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI 1,263,000 3,419,000 0 28
12 Oklahoma City, OK 286,000 759,000 0 5
13 Salt Lake City-Ogden, UT 361,000 1,118,000 34 28
14 Kansas City, MO-KS 715,000 1,822,000 0 10
15 Hartford, CT 426,000 965,000 0 18
16 Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point, NC 601,000 1,536,000 0 5
17 Orlando, FL 642,000 1,511,000 0 21
18 Phoenix-Mesa, AZ 1,146,000 3,271,000 0 18
19 St. Louis, MO-IL 963,000 2,555,000 74 26
20 San Diego, CA 1,024,000 2,995,000 179 41
21 Columbus, OH 616,000 1,428,000 0 15
22 Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, CA 5,439,000 15,584,000 755 64
23 Sacramento-Yolo, CA 802,000 2,121,000 39 19
24 Milwaukee-Racine, WI 642,000 1,552,000 0 53
25 Portland-Salem, OR-WA 835,000 2,077,000 86 66
26 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA 2,818,000 7,146,000 697 83
27 Washington-Baltimore, DC-MD-VA-WV 3,340,000 8,812,000 967 92
28 Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton, WA 1,646,000 4,470,000 114 38
29 San Antonio, TX 558,000 1,522,000 0 39
30 Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint, MI 2,038,000 5,298,000 4 13
31 Rochester, NY 439,000 1,144,000 0 17
32 Austin-San Marcos, TX 491,000 1,243,000 0 41
33 New Orleans, LA 514,000 1,430,000 16 54
34 Louisville, KY-IN 384,000 884,000 0 20
35 Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, VA-NC 708,000 1,791,000 0 11
36 Chicago-Gary-Kenosha, IL-IN-WI 2,985,000 7,827,000 1562 104
37 Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, MI 399,000 1,145,000 0 7
38 Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL 1,161,000 3,323,000 167 55
39 Cleveland-Akron, OH 1,179,000 3,065,000 75 27
40 Cincinnati-Hamilton, OH-KY-IN 881,000 2,025,000 0 16
41 Pittsburgh, PA 908,000 2,159,000 45 48
42 Boston-Worcester-Lawrence, MA-NH-ME-CT 2,320,000 6,175,000 770 85
43 Indianapolis, IN 695,000 1,595,000 3 9
44 Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City, PA-NJ-DE-MD 2,085,000 5,342,000 1150 93
45 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 1,083,000 2,241,000 5 11
46 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 477,000 1,150,000 14 31
47 Las Vegas, NV-AZ 620,000 1,554,000 4 43
48 Honolulu, HI 287,000 838,000 0 121
49 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-CT-PA 7,906,000 20,261,000 3533 274
50 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, FL 412,000 865,000 0 12

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation (2005) and American Public Transportation Association (2003)

Table 3: Driving and Spending Data, Per Driver

  Metro Area Miles Per Driver / Year Dollars Per Driver To Middle East, Per Year Drivers Per Household
1 Nashville, TN 16,473 $171 1.84
2 Dallas--Fort Worth, TX 15,665 $162 1.84
3 Charlotte--Gastonia--Rock Hill, NC--SC 15,204 $158 1.91
4 Atlanta, GA 14,848 $154 1.88
5 Memphis, TN--AR--MS 14,605 $151 1.71
6 Denver--Boulder--Greeley, CO 14,278 $148 1.89
7 Jacksonville, FL 13,905 $144 2.09
8 Oklahoma City, OK 13,575 $141 1.70
9 Orlando, FL 13,456 $139 1.60
10 Raleigh--Durham--Chapel Hill, NC 13,416 $139 1.85
11 Providence--Fall River--Warwick, RI--MA 12,739 $132 1.86
12 Hartford, CT 12,409 $129 1.81
13 Greensboro--Winston-Salem--High Point, NC 12,353 $128 1.78
14 Columbus, OH 12,351 $128 1.69
15 Milwaukee--Racine, WI 12,315 $128 1.68
16 Minneapolis--St. Paul, MN--WI 12,152 $126 1.93
17 Houston--Galveston--Brazoria, TX 12,049 $125 1.97
18 San Francisco--Oakland--San Jose, CA 11,885 $123 1.71
19 St. Louis, MO--IL 11,873 $123 1.80
20 Kansas City, MO--KS 11,857 $123 1.92
21 Pittsburgh, PA 11,620 $120 1.56
22 Louisville, KY--IN 11,583 $120 1.65
23 Los Angeles--Riverside--Orange County, CA 11,532 $120 1.80
24 Washington--Baltimore, DC--MD--VA--WV 11,514 $119 1.75
25 Portland--Salem, OR--WA 11,426 $118 1.80
26 Sacramento--Yolo, CA 11,318 $117 1.84
27 Phoenix--Mesa, AZ 11,212 $116 1.92
28 Cincinnati--Hamilton, OH--KY--IN 11,058 $115 1.64
29 San Antonio, TX 11,048 $114 1.79
30 San Diego, CA 10,905 $113 1.93
31 Detroit--Ann Arbor--Flint, MI 10,900 $113 1.79
32 Chicago--Gary--Kenosha, IL--IN--WI 10,853 $112 1.74
33 Rochester, NY 10,736 $111 1.80
34 Tampa--St. Petersburg--Clearwater, FL 10,594 $110 1.58
35 Cleveland--Akron, OH 10,556 $109 1.76
36 Seattle--Tacoma--Bremerton, WA 10,549 $109 1.88
37 Philadelphia--Wilmington--Atlantic City,PA--NJ--DE--MD 10,544 $109 1.64
38 Austin--San Marcos, TX 10,531 $109 1.83
39 Salt Lake City--Ogden, UT 10,468 $108 2.18
40 New Orleans, LA 10,439 $108 1.84
41 Indianapolis, IN 10,435 $108 1.71
42 Boston--Worcester--Lawrence, MA--NH--ME--CT 10,153 $105 1.77
43 Norfolk--Virginia Beach--Newport News, VA--NC 10,086 $105 1.90
44 Buffalo--Niagara Falls, NY 9,738 $101 1.58
45 Grand Rapids--Muskegon--Holland, MI 9,593 $99 1.96
46 Miami--Fort Lauderdale, FL 9,308 $96 2.01
47 New York--Northern New Jersey--Long Island,NY--NJ--CT--PA 8,499 $88 1.50
48 Las Vegas, NV--AZ 8,111 $84 1.76
49 West Palm Beach--Boca Raton, FL 8,014 $83 1.53
50 Honolulu, HI 7,051 $73 2.00

Source: U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation, 2005

About This Report

Principal author: Dusty Horwitt, Richard Wiles
Graphics and web design: T.C. Greenleaf

Thanks to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, Smart Growth America and Rob Puentes of the Brookings Institution for their ongoing help with this work.

This report was made possible by a grant from the Surdna Foundation. The authors and editor are responsible for any errors.


Environmental Working Group (EWG) developed its Persian Gulf oil dependency index by analyzing the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS). From the NHTS survey, EWG obtained data for the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas including the number of drivers in each area, total miles driven and the number of households in each area. The data was obtained from 141,860 surveys in the 50 cities. The sample size ranged from 465 people in Oklahoma City to 26,477 in New York. A metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is defined as an area that includes at least one urbanized core area of 50,000 or more people "together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core" (Census 2005).

From these data, EWG calculated the mean number of miles traveled per driver in each MSA. EWG then multiplied the number of miles traveled per driver by the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DoT) 2003 reported average fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks of 20.3 miles per gallon (DoT VMT 2003). The result gave us the total amount of gasoline consumed by the average person in each urban area. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the mix of vehicles and their fuel efficiency is approximately the same across metro areas nationwide (DoT Fuel Efficiency).

To determine geographically where our gasoline originates, we consulted the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) which reported that each 42-gallon barrel of crude oil produces an average of 19.9 gallons of gasoline (EIA Ask an Expert 2005). About 95 percent of our gasoline is refined in the United States from domestic or imported crude oil. Only about five percent of our gasoline is imported in the form of already-refined gasoline (EIA Net Imports 2003). The U.S. exports less than five percent of the gasoline produced from domestic crude oil (EIA Exports 2003).

EWG estimated that because about 16 percent of our crude oil came from the Persian Gulf in 2003 (2,425,000 barrels per day out of 15,333,000), 16 percent of our gasoline came from the Gulf (EIA Net Imports 2003, EIA PAD 2003). We adjusted this figure to 15 percent of our gasoline to account for the fact that most of our already-refined gasoline that is imported comes from outside the Gulf. We then multiplied the average gallons of gas consumed per driver in each metro area by 15 percent to determine the portion of Persian Gulf gasoline consumed by the average metro area driver.

The EIA reports that it does not track the origin of American gasoline. The EIA adds that "even if we knew at which company's refinery the gasoline was produced, the source of the crude oil used at that refinery may vary on a day-to-day basis. Most refiners use a mix of crude oils from various domestic and foreign sources" (EIA Primer on Gasoline 2005). Therefore, EWG estimated that the mix of gasoline from the Persian Gulf, the U.S., and other sources is consistent across the United States. In any event, every region of the nation depends on the inflow of Persian Gulf oil, either because the region uses the oil directly or because the use of Gulf oil in one region means that more oil is available from other sources in another region.

To determine how much money each metro area resident sent to the Persian Gulf, we multiplied the portion of Persian Gulf gasoline used by each resident by the average U.S. price of gasoline as of August 15, 2005 ($2.55 per gallon) and then multiplied the product by 55 percent, the amount of each dollar paid for gasoline attributable to crude oil as opposed to taxes, distribution, marketing and refining (EIA Gasoline Update 2005).

EWG obtained transit ridership data from several tables listed by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA Ridership Report 2003, APTA Factbook 2005).


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