Monday, September 21, 2009

Prepare for a drop in diesel and gasoline prices

September 20, 2009 5:30 PM MDT

You will soon be paying under $2 per gallon again for gasoline and diesel fuel and crude oil will go back down into the 40's. So you can make plans for that trip to see the grandparents for the holidays as well as give the economy a much needed boost. Demand for gasoline in the United States typically falls after Labor Day due to vacation season ending. For the week ending September 4, 2009 demand for gasoline was at its lowest point since January 9, 2008 according to MasterCard Advisors LLC.

Inversion of diesel fuel versus gasoline prices has not been the case in the United States since the Rita and Katrina hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005. That event had a major long term impact on inventories of gasoline, distillates and lube stocks on both side of the border. About 25% of the U.S. refinery capacity is located on the Gulf and was severely affected by the weather phenomenon.

Money has been poured into the commodities markets recently as the U.S. dollar fell against the Euro. Crude oil prices have risen from a low of $33 to $72 a barrel last week.

For month investors months have used crude oil as their hedge against inflation, betting that oil prices will likely increase as the economy improves and global supplies start to shrink.

So far 2009 has turned into the first normal year for the petroleum markets since 2004 due to the absence of the high roller speculators and adverse weather conditions. Those investors were burned in the big oil price freefall during the second half of 2008 by following bad advice from their investment brokers.

In August 2009 the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission took initial steps to enforce the strict limitations on dealings between bankers and stock analysts. The law requires investment firms to engage in “fair dealings with customers” and prohibits in-house analysts from issuing opinions and research reports that are at odds with their true beliefs about the market. These opinions are spread fast, far and wide utilizing today’s high tech communications.

The market is also very nervous after news that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Group, which runs the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), notified traders and brokers of tighter enforcement of existing position limits on NYMEX, CME, and other exchanges as of September 14, 2009.

US oil refiners, who were producing diesel in record numbers last year, reversed course earlier this year and made their refining stream fall in line with the flat demand for gasoline and the ever shrinking demand for diesel fuel. Refinery runs have drifted down to 86.94% of capacity from the previous week's 87.2%. Inventories of crude oil and its finished products are at all time high.

That will have the affect of starting the downward slide for gasoline and diesel fuel prices with the price of crude oil following right along.

Bob van der Valk is the Director of US Branded Licensing and Fuel-Pricing Analyst with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington and can be contacted at (425) 216-9072 or by email at and web site:

Bob’s professional web site is:
Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gas prices will fizzle out by October

The van der Valk Gas Price Advisory for September 1, 2009
Dateline: Terry, Montana
We have had some dog days here in Terry, Montana this summer and the price of gasoline has been scorching upward right along with the heat. The spot market for gasoline and diesel prices dropped like a rock Monday, but Tuesday morning brought new hope and both of them are both back up. Gasoline is heading the pack but the price of crude oil is back down some more to $68.05 down $1.91 a barrel for the day.
For a further explanation on why gasoline prices are going up while we are still suffering from a recession we look toward the stalwart of all banking institutions, Bank of America (BAC), and its subsidiary Merrill Lynch.

In a report to investors Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Merrill Lynch, said that investors are flocking back into commodities after substantial withdrawals in the second part of last year, on the back of rising prices and a recovery in risk appetite.
"Our estimates put the total amount of money currently invested in commodity indices at about $125 billion, up from a trough of $80 billion dollars in February," he said.

But it does not explain that people filling up their tanks are paying more and driving less due to a slacking economy. The unemployment rate has almost doubled from 5 % in April 2008 to 9.7 % in July 2009 per today's U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Crude prices have been driven higher since the first of this year by a combination of OPEC capacity cuts and continued strong demand from Asia, particularly China and India. China’s oil demand in July increased 3.5% over the same period last year as imports continue to rise. This has pushed the price of crude up even though consumption is down around the world. But the winter months will exacerbate this already clouded picture with crude oil expected to steep downward from the current $70 to $40 a barrel.

Crude oil and gasoline prices will be scorchers for just another month and like comets fizzle out over the horizon with a trail of rocks tailing behind. Fall will bring welcome relief to the exhausted gasoline consumers. The other good news they will be enjoying is lower heating oil and natural gas prices. Diesel prices will move down with crude oil prices and red dye diesel will be down to $1.50 per gallon in time for a cold winter predicted for most of the country. There seems to be no floor on the price of natural gas, which is now at around $2.50 per million cubic feet versus $16.25 just a year ago.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The lull before the storm for gasoline prices

The van der Valk Gas Price Advisory for August 28, 2009

Dateline: Issaquah, Washington
By: Bob van der Valk
August 28, 2009 9:00 AM PDT

Right now there is a tropical depression named Terry (after my hometown in Montana) but it is slowly becoming a storm and will then turn into a full fledged hurricane. Of course, I am referring to what is happening with gasoline pump prices. The average price of gasoline over the last seven days has not changed precipitously but that is quickly changing on the oil market weather map. The AAA fuelgauge report shows the national average price of self-serve regular gas is $2.613 per gallon on Friday, down just over a penny from a week ago. The national average price of diesel fuel is $2.697 a gallon, up just over a penny.

For much of 2009, crude oil prices have gone steadily upward from the low 30's to the middle 70's. Meanwhile pump prices have increased nationwide from $1.50 to $2.60 per gallon. At 42 gallons to a barrel of crude each $10 represents about 25 cents per gallon increase or decrease for gasoline. But the market has reacted to the current recession just the opposite of traditional supply and demand dynamics. Instead of gasoline prices staying steady, they went up while the US and Canadian economies were going through their doldrums.

About 50% of the trades on the Nymex and ICE exchanges represent entities who will not take the delivery of one wet barrel of crude oil or fuel when their contracts expire. That is down from 55% at the same time last year before the crude oil price bubble burst. However, it is still higher than the 20% of traders holding paper barrels in 2000. That year is significant because that is when the CTFC took volume requirement off traders dealing on international exchanges. Speculators did what speculators do best and figured out a way to game the system in order to make money.

The big boys are now investing huge amounts of money on the US dollar as a hedge against inflation as well as flow money into the commodities markets, which has served as the primary driver of oil prices.

Gasoline prices are highest in Hawaii, at $3.297 a gallon, and cheapest in South Carolina, at $2.38 a gallon. California meanwhile has remained stable during the week, averaging $3.046 a gallon. The highest price for gasoline is San Francisco, where the average cost is $3.133 a gallon. The cheapest market is Yuba City, with an average price of $2.948 a gallon.

The Labor Day weekend is just a week away and the spot market prices for gasoline have already firmed up. That will translate into higher prices at the gas pump at least until the middle of September. By then the hurricane season for gasoline prices will come to an end when oil companies start switching to refining winter grade gasoline. The supply of gasoline and diesel will increase by 10% and pump prices will ease back down to $2 per gallon by Thanksgiving and crude oil to the 40's.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why have crude oil and gasoline doubled in price this year?

Dateline: Terry, Montana
August 10, 2009 12.30 PM MDT

Gas prices are up 14 cents per gallon in the last 10 days across the country but crude oil has remained steady around $70 a barrel since the beginning of July. The American Petroleum Institute’s spokesman John Felmy would like you to reason that when the price of crude oil fluctuates up or down, it will have the same affect on the pump price for gasoline. However, that has not been the case so far in 2009.

The benchmark price for WTI crude oil decreased $1.00 on Friday, August 7th, to $70.93 a barrel after reaching an intra day high of $72.84 a barrel. There was no like response downward in the price for gasoline at U.S. and Canadian gas stations. In fact, gasoline prices have been going steadily upward and crude oil has followed instead of the other way around.

While U.S. gasoline demand usually reaches its ultimate level from June through August, refiners have on the other hand cut production in the three weeks ending July 31. Gasoline stockpiles on that date were 2.9 percent higher than a year earlier, while diesel stocks were 24 percent higher.
The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported that total daily fuel use averaged 18.9 million barrels in the four weeks ended July 31, which was 3.1 percent less than a year earlier. However, that is a deceptive number since it includes diesel and jet fuel demand, which has been as much as 20% below last year’s level.

Summer gasoline use is actually on the upswing and will reach its peak demand by Labor Day. This year the holiday weekend falls on September 7th well into the month in which refiners will be switching from producing summer to winter gasoline grade gasoline. That alone has in immediate affect on supply and brings about additional 10 percent of gasoline into the market. Refiners can produce an average of 22 gallons during the winter from a 42 gallon barrel of crude oil versus just 20 gallons out of that same barrel during the summer.

That is good for the consumers but bad for the oil refiners. They will be stuck in the same cycle that occurred last year with gasoline prices and crude oil prices going to a virtual free fall with profits turning into losses. The EIA chart below shows the history of US gasoline prices for the last two years. We started last year out at about $3 then increased to $4.15 per gallon by August. This year we began at $1.55 and went to $2.70 in that same time span.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is scheduled to have its next meeting on September 9th with crude oil prices currently hovering around $70 a barrel. That price was quoted as “not bad” and necessary to maintain investment according to OPEC President Botelho de Vasconcelos in Angola over the weekend. OPEC is responsible for 40 percent of global supplies of crude oil and will be reviewing production targets for member countries at their next meeting.

Their big bug-a-boo will be how to handle the massive cheating by some of their members who are exceeding their assigned quotas. July estimates leave the OPEC-11 about one million barrels in excess of the total assigned quota of 25 million barrels of output per day in order to be in compliance with the about 4 million barrels per day crude output agreed upon last year.

You can join the crowd if you are totally confused by all the facts and figures you are reading and hearing on exactly what drives gasoline prices. Yesterday morning I joined a couple of elderly ladies for a cup of coffee at a snack bar table during the Ranch Rodeo being held at the Prairie County Fairgrounds in my hometown of Terry, Montana.

Inevitably, the subject of gasoline prices came up and they wanted to know how they ended up paying almost $1.25 per gallon more at the Four Corners gas station in town since earlier this year. After trying to explain it to them they just rolled their eyes and one of them said that it was just the greedy oil companies making money.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

iPhone service in Montana - Enter Dark Territory

The following email was sent to Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT & T, and Tim Cook, Acting CEO of Apple:

I moved to Montana from Washington in May 2009 and AT & T notified me on July 2, 2009 that they will be cancelling my service as I am in violation of my contract with them. I use my iPhone for business and travel to other parts of the country but apparently Montana is one of the states AT & T in which they cannot service iPhone data economically. It was explained to me by your representatives that the cost for access to other carriers exceeds what I pay on the AT & T flat rate data program.

AT & T cell service in Terry, Montana is about the same as Verizon Wireless. Dropped calls, not receiving calls and voice mail messages not received are the rigor with my iPhone. I had great service in Seattle, Washington where I purchased the phone in September 2008.

An email to each of you resulted in a call back from a representative in the Office of the President of AT & T and Apple. But all I received was sympathy and lots of apologies with no solution. The first customer service representative I contacted offered to switch my account to Verizon for me and suggested buying a Blackberry phone. I have just done so without her help and am waving AT & T goodbye.

The following article from Bloomberg tells the story on how exclusive arrangements like the one between AT & T and Apple is good for you but not good for the consumers is being investigated by the FCC.

"IPhone Probe to Focus on Markets Without Service, FCC Head Says
By Todd Shields
July 31 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. regulators probing wireless- phone contracts will focus on markets where Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Palm Inc.’s Pre aren’t available to consumers, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said.
“There are markets in the country where if you wanted an iPhone, if you wanted a Pre, you just couldn’t get it -- from anyone,” Julius Genachowski said in an interview yesterday. “So one question is, is that consistent with broad consumer interests?”
The agency also will consider if innovation is promoted or hindered by exclusive arrangements such as those that limit the iPhone to customers of AT&T Inc. and the Pre to Sprint Nextel Corp. subscribers, Genachowski said.
Genachowski, 46, declined to say what the next steps will be in the investigation, which the agency announced last month after four U.S. senators asked it to examine the exclusive deals. An AT&T executive told a June 17 hearing the deals spur innovation and help lower prices. Verizon Wireless said this month that new deals with handset makers will last no longer than six months, down from one to two years for most contracts.
“Promoting competition is absolutely a main function of the FCC,” said Genachowski.
He took office June 29 as the Obama administration’s choice to head the independent agency that sets rules for telephone, cable and broadcast companies.
Fostering high-speed Internet connections, or broadband, is a priority for the FCC, Genachowski said.
“There’s absolutely a sense of urgency in Congress, the White House, here at the agency, that we need to make sure that the United States communications infrastructure is appropriate for the 21st century,” he said.
Preparing Broadband Plan
Genachowski declined to say whether the agency would seek to write new rules to ensure that Web companies treat content providers equally as it readies a national broadband plan that is due to Congress by February.
The FCC last year censured Comcast Corp. after concluding the largest U.S. cable company had interfered with subscribers’ Web traffic. A lawsuit by Comcast seeking to overturn the decision awaits oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
“We expect to prevail,” Genachowski said.
“There shouldn’t be any doubt that the FCC will enforce non-discrimination,” he said. “The Internet needs to remain open.”
Genachowski said he has devoted time to meeting with FCC staff.
“My visits around the agency have convinced me that the agency needs to be retooled and revitalized, and that that’s not a controversial proposition inside the FCC,” Genachowski said.
‘Shortchanged’ Consumers
At Genachowski’s June 16 nomination hearing, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democrat who heads the Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC, said the agency has “shortchanged” consumers. Rockefeller told Genachowski to “fix” the agency.
Genachowski said yesterday that he didn’t want to comment “on where the agency has been.”
In December, congressional Democrats said his predecessor, Kevin Martin, a Republican, abused his powers and created a “climate of fear” at the agency. Martin followed the same procedures by Democratic and Republican chairman alike, an FCC spokesman said at the time.
Genachowski attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and helped shape his technology agenda. He was an adviser to IAC/InterActiveCorp Chief Executive Officer Barry Diller, and earlier served as an attorney at the FCC and a Supreme Court clerk."

Last Thursday while I was in Billings dropping off my daughter at the airport I checked with the Best Buy store in Billings on iPhone availability in Montana. After the clerk told me that their store was not allowed to carry the iPhone he proudly told me that he has a family member in town who had obtained one by using his cousin's Denver home address to get one and sign up with AT & T. So it's legal to own and wear a gun on your hip in Montana but AT & T forbids you to use the iPhone there!

Hello Blackberry Storm goodbye Apple iPhone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

AT & T - Apple iPhone service in Montana not allowed

The email below was sent to Tim Cook, acting CEO of Apple, to let him know about my frustations with the iPhone cell and data service in Montana. Basically AT & T has told me that they do not plan on to service this area of the country.

Bob van der Valk

Mr. Cook:

My original email to Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT &T, received great confusion by their customer service personnel when I asked them a very simple question: "When will AT & T cut off my service?" It took three phone call from Justin Krischenmann in the Office of the President for AT & T to finally get the correct answer. I will be cut off 90 days from the date after receiving my first notice of violation of terms my contract.

I am forwarding you the email sent to Mr. Stephenson to let him know how I feel about his company's service.

Bob van der Valk
508 S. Washington Ave.
Terry, MT 59349
(406) 635-4233
(971) 67-2975

Mr. Stephenson:

I have found out more information about the exclusive AT & T arrangement with Apple by posting my original complaint on your web site at:

I work in petroleum marketing and what your company is doing would be called cherry picking in my business. You will not be able to continue promote your brand in the US as you exceed your capacity and the iPhone cell phone concept will sink as a result.

The iTouch and iTouch Tablet will soon take over the main part of the business as Apple continues to promote their many applications which in turn will require more data usage on your system than you are currently unable to service in areas such as Montana. The mobile cell phone business will go to the company with service in the widest service area. Below is the last reply I have posted on your web site.

I look forward to your response.
Bob van der Valk
508 S. Washington Ave.
P.O. Box 711
Terry, MT 59349
(406) 635-4233
(971) 678-2975 cell

"I just received my second text message and email notice from AT &T that I am in violation of our contract. I had asked Justin K. in the Office of the President for AT & T to quit sending notices once a customer has like me reacted. It just infuriates me as I do not like to be threatened.

I now know the consequences of my actions by not reading the fine print in our contract about moving out of one of their prime service areas. Shame of me for my neglect. This thread of postings is being forwarded to Tim Cook, acting CEO for Apple, for his follow up.

On a lighter note I have my daughter Marissa visiting us here in Terry, Montana this week. She is a techi and has now installed WiFi at the place where I work in town in order for me to continue to use my iPhone as an iTouch. She lives in Los Angeles and has Verizon Wireless as her carrier. Of course, in that area cell phone customers have many carriers from which to choose but she thinks Verizon has the best coverage by far not only in LA but also in the hinterlands of the US. Marissa is a Scientist working for Amgen in their Thousand Oaks office and travels all over the US for conferences and meeting people.

This will be last thread from me on this web site as I have given up on AT & T or should I say they have given up on me. When they eventually do cut me off it will be the last time I will do business with them even if I have to start using smoke signals to send messages to my family and friends.

Goodbye AT &T."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

When Goldman Sachs wins – You lose

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 19. 2009
By: Bob van der Valk

The taxpayers of the US are the losers with Goldman Sachs (GS) employees the winners in this game called “Last Man Standing”. With most of their competitors being either bought out under duress or allowed to go bankrupt they have been left holding the bag. Even a leprechaun could not have been as lucky as to finding a bag so full of gold.

Nomi Prins, a former managing director for Goldman Sachs in New York, was interviewed by Juan Gonzalez for “Democracy Now!” right after the record profits at GS was announced.

Nomi Prins said that GS paid back the $10 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money in order to avoid the type of media scrutiny AIG received after they announced their employee bonus payouts earlier this year. She went on to explain in the interview:

“The bigger amount of money that has gone to Goldman has come through $12.9 billion from the AIG bailout that went straight to Goldman, its biggest counterpart; $28 billion worth of FDIC-backed guaranteed debt, meaning the FDIC put up a program last fall, and it said, “For banks that deal with consumers”—not banks that deal with multibillion-dollar companies or investors, but people—“we will provide guarantees for debt,” which means that those companies can raise debt to help consumers cheaply. Goldman said, “Alright, fine, we’ll take some of that.” And they took $28 billion worth of that, and they have up to $35 billion that they can take under the FDIC program that was never meant for a company like Goldman Sachs.

In addition, there is a ton of money, there are trillions of dollars at the Fed, not all of that went to Goldman, but that has secretly gone to a number of banks in the system, of which Goldman is one, for which the Fed refuses to disclose any information or any detail, which also goes into this. So when Goldman says—has the nerve to say, feels entitled to say—that it’s going to pay its bankers record bonuses after the travesty that it and other banks have created in the markets, it is on the back of federal subsidies that effectively come from our pockets.”

The result of those record profits is that Goldman Sachs (GS) will be paying out record bonuses to their employees this year on the backs of the US taxpayers. Their public relations department has a bunker mentality and has only opened their gun turrets long enough to shoot down any of the arguments being put up by the pundits who are against them paying out those bonuses.

The stock market investment community is also celebrating this turn of events and points to the record profits at GS as a sign that the economy is recovering. It has at least for the employees of GS but the remainder of the country continues to suffer record unemployment and is still looking for answers that will get us out our economic quack mire.

The actual count in dollars the US government is guaranteeing the banking business keeps going up every day. Right now those guarantees are up to almost 14 trillion dollars. As a form of comparison that amount would pay off every single mortgage in this country, healthcare and subsidizing student loans. Do you know of any individual consumer who has actually been able to walk into a GS bank and borrow money for a business or buy a car?

One way to stop this taxpayer bail out mess is for the Federal Election Commission to include a provision in their rules that would prohibit any of the companies receiving TARP money to make contributions to any candidate for federal office under the Federal Campaign Finance Laws. The time limit will be five years from the date the TARP money was paid out and will put an end to this endless cycle of “You rub my back and I’ll rub yours”.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Under Siege - Dark Territory - My AT & T Service Complaint

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 16, 2009

I received a call from Justin K., Office of the President, yesterday afternoon responding to my complaint in the email I sent earlier that day to Randall Stephenson, the AT & T CEO, which reads:

"Mr. Stephenson:

I am contacting you direct since I have been unable to obtain satisfactory answers to my question about the lack of service in the area to which I recently moved.It seems like my wife and I, both of us own iPhones, have entered Dark Territory insofar AT & T is concerned.

We purchased our cell phone in Issaquah, Washington back in August and September 2008 after receiving satisfactory service from your company in Las Vegas, Portland - OR, and Seattle since November 2006. We especially liked the fact that you offer roll-over minutes on your program.

Verizon, who had been our carrier for twenty years prior, did not respond to my inquiry as to why did not offer a similar rate program for their cell service.My complaint with your company is that your customer service is more interested in telling me chapter and verse according to AT & T policy rather than dealing with me as a valued customer.

Both customer representatives, whom I am copying with this email, kept apologizing profusely for not being able to help me keep AT & T as my carrier in Montana. The policy and the contract I signed was explained to me in every detail, something your sales people at your store neglected to do, and offered to set up an account for us with Verizon Wireless.

I objected to that only because it will make my iPhone useless other than as a mini-laptop with no access to email etc.My real complaint is that your marketing strategy has become very obvious to me. You are only interested in providing service in areas where you are a direct carrier.

The hardware used towards that purpose has become secondary and as your exclusive with Apple is expiring soon will not be your main driving force to obtain profit for your stockholders.

Thanks for listening to me and would appreciate a response (hopefully positive) back from you as soon as possible.

Bob van der Valk"

Justin said that he would look into my complaint and get back with me today. I will post his response to this blog as soon as it received.

Below are the comments I posted on the Seeking Alpha web site article:

Updated, 12:01 p.m.: The expiration date of the exclusive iPhone deal between Apple and AT&T has not been officially released, but in April the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources saying AT & T is hoping to extend their deal with Apple into 2011.

Here is my original posting to the AT & T Forum web site:

My personal experience with AT&T has been very bad since moving to Terry, Montana from Seattle, Washington. Upon our arrival I was happy to find out that all of my iPhone applications worked as long as have WiFi is available.

Cell phone service is intermittent in the Eastern Montana area, since we are located near the Badlands, and even the local cell service providers are having problems staying connected.

Lo and behold I received a text message and email from A T & T/Cingular on July 1, 2009 that I was in violation of my contract by being outside of their direct service area. I called the phone number listed in the messages the next morning and was advised that I had 30 days to decide to cancel my contract, without penalty, and find another service provider.

Apparently the contract reads that if I use my cell phone for data and phone use over 40% in areas not directly served by A T & T/Cingular my contract could be voided.

I was surprised but told the person that I understood that they had rules and I had agreed to them. Although I don't remember reading any of the gobble de coop stuff they made me sign when I proudly picked up my iPhone birthday present last September at one of their direct sales stores in Issaquah, Washington.

Here comes the real kicker, the customer service person offered to call Verizon Wireless to change over and set up my account with them. She told me that she would call me back in 20 minutes to confirm it with me.

I told her to be sure that I could keep my iPhone with the new carrier as I am now practically married to it. I bathe, eat, drive and sleep with it. In fact my wife is thinking of becoming one of my applications so I will give her as much attention.

She suggested that I get another phone perhaps a Blackberry since they have similar applications and Verizon is one of their carriers. I declined her offer and am still waiting for a call back from her.

Time is ticking and I have only 17 days left before I am cut off.In case one of the A T & T/Cingular executives happens to read my personal lament, please let me know. I tried AT&T once more this morning (July 14th) and received similar response from their customer service supervisor.

I will be sending emails to her well as her supervisor Rachel. I am also calling the CEO of AT&T later this morning and will post any responses negative or otherwise I receive on this blog. Your comments are invited and you can email them to me at:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Crude oil – A bridge to our renewable energy future

The real story behind the Bakken Oil Formation

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 13, 2009 1:00 PM MDT
By: Bob van der Valk

President Obama is being invited to spend some of his time in his own back yard to rub shoulders with the oil workers of Montana and North Dakota to check on their progress for increasing domestic crude oil production.

The President would be able to obtain greater insight on how to solve this country’s energy needs for the immediate future. Brett Smelser, owner of Border Steel and Recycling, who is the mayor of Sidney, Montana as well, would like to have a chance to speak to him directly about the local effort in making our nation energy independent. He is actively involved in his state’s effort about getting the message out on how to best develop the Bakken’s rich mineral deposits

Exploration for crude oil in the Bakken Oil Formation is rapidly being expanded and its output is expected to expand exponentially as long as oil prices remain above $60 a barrel. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) figures it could yield up to 3.65 billion barrels of recoverable oil with additional reserves possible using even more sophisticated and as yet not invented methods. It is the largest oil field in the continental U.S. but it does not come close to the roughly 60 billion barrels of existing proven reserves discovered in the North Slope of Alaska.

The President will learn that oil is the “Life-blood of America” and a national energy policy, not based on politics as usual, is urgently required. What would happen if we had another energy crisis occurs and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decides to cut us off again? Our generation still remembers the days of gasoline allocation, even and odd days buying of gasoline and pulling up to the gas station behind the “last car in line” during two energy crises of the 1970’s.

The following map shows how much of the area the Bakken Oil Formation covers:

In addition to having been the mayor of Sidney since 2002, Mr. Smelser was appointed to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation by Governor Brian Schweitzer in 2007 and serves in his current term until 2011. He spoke to me about the need for cooperation between the different state and federal governmental entities involved in oil production since the area in which he lives and works, which straddles all the way from Eastern Montana to Western North Dakota.

The catch with President Obama’s current energy plans, to increase energy conservation as well as fuel efficiency gains, is that he has decided to pair that up with government intervention. This will reduce demand by installing a cap-and-trade, fuel tax or carbon tax, thereby any savings from efficiency gains will be taxed away or otherwise removed from further economic circulation and therein lies the rub. Crude oil will be more expensive to explore for and produce in North America, especially when compared to the Canadian oil sands.

We need to build a bridge to a renewable energy future in the U.S. Further exploration for domestic crude oil will be a crucial step in filling that gap. Some alternative energy projects may be as far as twenty years of away of getting on-line. By then we may be able to rely on wind, solar and hydro-power as a way to energy independence.

Mr. Smelser said that the first step should be to expand the capacity of crude oil shipping pipelines as well build at least one new refinery in the area. The local sweet crude oil is now trading at $10 discount from the West Texas Intermediate crude oil posted price, and more investments will be required to take full advantage of this domestic oil production.

The USGS estimates the Bakken possesses 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of yet "undiscovered, technically recoverable" crude oil and 1.85 Trillion Cubic Feet (Tcf) of natural gas. The formation is also estimated to hold 148 million barrels of natural gas liquids.

The current pipeline is overbooked and some oil wells have already been slowed down or shut down pumping completely until the infrastructure catches up to handling the overabundance of crude oil still in the ground.

This is the part of our country where the real work gets done to keep the oil flowing. The slogan “Get ‘R Done” is seen far and wide in what is commonly known as the Bad Lands. But that slogan will become a household word in the country and soon may be called “Persia on the Prairie”. The locals in Williston, North Dakota are more prone to using their own slogan, “Rockin the Bakken”; in showing enthusiasm for their new found buried treasure.

In between very modest homes and farms we are sitting on top of one the largest reserve of crude oil The underground Bakken Oil Formation stretches from Eastern Montana through North Dakota north to Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada and it is just now receiving the national attention it so well deserves.

The heart of the Bakken oil field, which contains three layers of shale, was formed when the area was covered with a relatively deep ocean. It is about two miles down with about two-thirds of the acreage located in western North Dakota. In the year 2000, the Elm Coulee oil field was discovered in the Williston Basin of Richland County, Montana and draws its oil from the Bakken Oil Formation.

This massive rock of shale was initially discovered as an oil source in the mid-1950s, but with extremely low porosity and permeability, it was almost impossible to exploit fully with conventional drilling techniques. At that time crude oil was going for less than $10 a barrel. Other methods were cost prohibitive with more sophisticated but more expensive and not yet invented methods being required.

A joint venture, of Exxon, Unocal and Tosco in Colorado first explored and developed crude oil from shale oil deposits in Colorado during the two energy crises in the 1970’s, quickly dissipated when the Reagan era of hands off policy on government controls on energy took hold.

Their site was located in Parachute, Colorado but was eventually shut down when the U.S. government decided to withdraw the subsidies being paid to the oil companies. The major difference between the Parachute and Bakken operation is the first used a “retort” and the latter “in situ" (meaning in its original form, undisturbed) for their oil shale recovery systems. In situ uses slanted drilling and “fractionation” extraction techniques to bring “Black Gold” up to the surface instead using the standard horizontal drilling.

By itself and without government support the development of oil shale into crude oil was uneconomical especially when the price of a barrel crude oil took another dive in the early 1980’s. But we are now in the affordability range once again with West Texas Intermediate crude oil around $60 a barrel.

The cost of exploring and producing crude oil from shale is still relativity higher compared than that of exploring for conventional crude oil, which can be brought up from underground for about $40 a barrel in even the most far away places in the world.

Perhaps in the year 2109 our future generation of kids will be shaking their heads in disbelief at our futile attempts to stay ahead of running out of energy while watching repeats on television of “Black Gold", "Deadliest Catch" and "Ice Road Truckers”. In their American History classes they will have to listen to lectures about how we used to transport our oil from the Middle East instead of exploring for it in our own backyard.

They will be shocked and awed just as we were when reading about our early pioneers, who actually churned their own butter and had milk delivered to their doors each morning.

Bob van der Valk resides in Terry, Montana and is the Director of US Branded Licensing with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington and can be contacted at (425) 216-9072 or by email at and web site:

Bob’s personal web page address is:

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The backwards Robin Hood effect in trading of crude oil

Dateline: Terry, Montana

You have heard of Goldman Sachs but may not know that they are the owners of the biggest casino in the world through its commodities-trading subsidiary J. Aron and Company. No, they do not own an actual casino but are merely the stomping grounds for high dollar bettors in the world of commodities.

There are no slot machines or other gaming devices anywhere around their sumptuous offices at 85 Broad Street in New York before you start planning to make reservations to fly in on your private plane, be met by a private limousine with a chauffer, check into your luxury suite and hitting the tables. Better yet, they are set up and are connected to every major commodities exchange around the world.

For some background on this subject, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in the U.S. has established speculative position limits on trading contracts. These limits are intended to prevent market imbalances that would result in failures for the ultimate settlement of the futures contracts.

J. Aron & Company is exempt from those limits under the Commodity Exchange Act. The reason behind the CFTC decision was that U.S. investment brokers could otherwise do their trades on other world commodity exchanges without any volume restrictions thereby denying the New York Mercantile Exchange from gaining its rightful share of the action. They are the world's largest physical commodity futures exchange and want to keep it that way.

However, that exemption became a license to rob from the poor and give to the rich with Goldman Sachs becoming the owner the world’s biggest commodities betting parlor taking their share from the top no matter whether the prices of crude oil went up or down. The Goldman Sachs Commodity Index tracks the prices of 25 major commodities and is weighted heavily toward crude oil.

Index speculators, who are mostly “long” bettors, seldom take short positions and thereby are betting on prices to rise but they eventually spiral back down. This instability forces prices for crude oil up at times for no other reason than too many paper barrels are chasing the “wet” physical barrels. The balloon eventually burst when the real value of the crude oil barrel kicks in. That cost is equivalent to the cost of getting crude oil out of the ground and shipping it to the refineries.

To break up this monopoly the CFTC will have to eliminate the exemption from the limits on those trades. We just some recent examples of gross violations happen when PVM Oil Futures, trading on the London Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in Brent crude oil contracts, caused the global crude oil prices to spike to its highest level in eight months last week Tuesday.

PVM, which is the London-based division of the world’s biggest broker of over-the-counter derivatives, eventually lost almost $10 million in those early morning trades on Tuesday.
Steve Perkins, a senior and long-standing trader, apparently unhappy with his first-half year bonus, brokered those contracts and has now been suspended from his post by PVM. They are a privately held company owned by its employees with offices in Vienna, Singapore, New Jersey and Houston.

Mr. Perkins’ trades were hard to explain at the time by other traders on the ICE. He could have done it by intercepting the exchange confirmations thereby hiding the open position or the trades were simply booked as hedges where no corresponding physical position actually existed.

Any disciplinary action by the United Kingdom’s Financial Service Authority regulators, the equivalent to the CFTC in the U.S., will be too little too late. Steve Perkins will eventually be found not “fit and proper” to work in London and banned from trading. But catching him now will be like closing the door after the horse has already escaped out of the barn.

In May 2009 the FSA had taken its third regulatory action against Morgan Stanley this year when it fined Nilesh Shroff, an executive director at the firm, who deliberately disadvantaged clients while conducting their trades. He had traded for the firm’s benefit before making the requested trades from his clients. In addition to a £140,000 fine Mr. Shroff was banned by the regulators from trading. He was the third Morgan Stanley trader to be fined this year with Morgan Stanley having to paying substantial fines for the other two violations.

What may be good for the investors is terrible for the ordinary Joe and Jill trying to fill up their fuel tank at the local gas station while looking for some stability in prices.
Alas, what cannot be cured must be endured.

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What can be done about diesel fuel prices?

Dateline: Terry, Montana, U.S.
July 4, 2009

The big holiday and vacation season is once again upon us. Canada and the U.S. just celebrated their respective national birthdays and all eyes in our industry are being kept on whether consumer confidence has re-instilled itself.

Diesel fuel is one of the most critical commodities in keeping the Canadian and U.S. economies rolling. In our transportation and construction industries almost all aspects of operations are fueled by diesel engines. Rising diesel fuel prices can translate to increasing costs of products and services. In order to know what can be done to slow down this increase, you as a consumer need to be aware of its causes and find creative ways to save money on your fuel usage.

There are several basic elements that determine the worth of a gallon of diesel. About fifty-five percent of the cost of diesel reflects the price of crude oil, which is raw material for diesel production. Crude oil is brought from the oil fields to the refineries where the ultra-low sulfur diesel, among other petroleum products, is extracted.

Given a barrel of crude is 42 gallons; the average refinery is able to produce about 8 gallons of diesel and jet fuel or 20 % of the total. About half of the barrel is made into gasoline with the remainder in low end bunker fuel oils and other petroleum products. Refining accounts for nearly fifteen percent of diesel fuel cost.

The remaining elements of the cost of diesel fuel are government taxes and the expense of advertising and delivery. A ten percent excise tax is levied onto all fuel products that are refined in Canada. Although foreign fuel can avoid this tax, it is generally cheaper to buy locally refined fuel as import taxes generally are passed along to the consumer. Marketing and distribution make up about five percent of total diesel fuel cost, but this can often be the most volatile factor affecting the value of diesel fuel.

This is where the diesel fuel consumers may have a sure fire way to save money on their cost for operating their diesel trucks and equipment. They can make arrangements with an on-site fueling company like 4Refuel headquartered in Langley BC, Canada. They currently service most of the Canadian market and recently expanded into the U.S. West Coast market by opening an office in Lynnwood, Washington serving the Greater Seattle area.

Saving fuel and lowering consumption is not only good for the environment; it decreases demand, and ultimately your cost. The factors that affect diesel fuel prices seem complex, but an understanding of the basic principles can empower the individual consumer to make the right decisions.

Bob van der Valk resides in Terry, Montana and is the Fuel-pricing Analyst with 4Refuel LLC in Lynnwood, Washington. He can be contacted at (971) 678-2975 or e-mail him at:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Good news: Prices are up for crude oil but down for gasoline

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 1, 2009

The price of crude oil has been hovering around $70 a barrel for the last week meanwhile gasoline pump prices in the U.S. and Canada are down by about a nickel a gallon or 1 cent per litre during that same time. The average price for a gallon of gasoline is $2.63 today per the AAA fuelguage report. Montana’s gasoline prices are averaging $2.71 barely nudging down from a week ago price.

If there seems to be no correlation between the two, it is because U.S. and Canadian refineries are just now running crude oil they purchased earlier this year. The typical shelf time in shipping from the well to the refinery is about six weeks and crude oil in the tank at the refineries is still at around $40 a barrel. So who do we blame? The greedy oil companies, those evil Wall Street speculators or is it just plain simple Gasoline Marketing 101?

Crude oil accounts for 55 percent of the cost of gasoline. The other big chunk is the federal, state and local taxes, which make up 24 percent of the cost. Then we add refining costs and profits of 15 percent to the cost of gasoline. Distribution and marketing costs made up the final 6 percent of the cost.

The Petroleum Marketers Association reports the profit margin at each local gas station of between 3 and 15 cents per gallon of gasoline.

This morning we wait for the release of the weekly Department of Energy's inventory statistics, which will give some direction to the market. Other factors may be at work as well with a myriad of glitches at U.S. refineries spooking the traders into shoring up their deals before the July 4th weekend. With just three trading days left in the week no one would knowingly get caught at the end of a short stick in keeping physical product flowing into their tanks.

Armed conflicts and threats around the world are receiving the usual buzz by the paper traders and one that is having an immediate affect is in Nigeria. That has resulted in almost 1 million barrels per day of crude oil being cut off from being shipped to the U.S.

The Shell Oil platform and shipping terminal in the Niger Delta was blown up by militants last weekend interrupting vitally needed crude oil from being loaded. The Nigerian government has desperately been trying to deal with the situation and has even offered amnesty to the dissidents if they lay down their arms.
Speculators are hard at work trying to make money by betting on any outcome. But the adage that “For every winner, there is a loser” applies to the investment business just like it does in sports.

Bob van der Valk resides in Terry, Montana and is the fuel-pricing analyst with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington. He can be contacted at (971) 678-2975 or e-mail to:

His viewpoints and previous articles about the petroleum industry can be found at web site address:

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oklahoma Attorney General says BP/Arco manipulates gasoline prices

Dateline: Terry, Montana
June 27, 2009 6:00 AM MDT

Nationally the average price for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.658 down about 3 cents per gallon from a week ago. Montana's gasoline prices have leveled off at $2.72 with California staying high at $3.01 per gallon. Hawaii gets the prize for the highest cost for gasoline at $3.09 per gallon in the AAA The gasoline spot market price meanwhile has dropped by 20 cents per gallon in the last two weeks but retail pump prices have not reacted in kind and are not expected to drop much more before the end of next week.

Pump prices have barely budged with the spot market gasoline and diesel prices going down another 2-3 cents per gallon at the end of this week. The August WTI crude oil price decreased $1.07 to just above $69.16 a barrel on Friday

Big industry news was published in the Oklahoma Daily Journal on Friday that State Attorney General Drew Edmondson had filed a lawsuit against BP/Arco (BPL). He is accusing them of gaming the price of gasoline and crude oil since 2002. This alleged scheme had previously been brought to the attention of the Federal Trade Commission but Edmondson claims to have found fresh evidence that BP was able to manipulate gas prices by hoarding short-term motor fuel and crude oil supplies.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated those same allegations in 2006. At that time, BP/Arco was suspected of manipulating the petroleum market by controlling the physical West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil inventory at the Cushing, Oklahoma terminal. They have since divested some of those assets but they are still dominant in trading WTI at the Cushing terminal.

The initial investigation into trading practices between oil companies was called for by Congress in the wake of the huge gasoline and fuel price spikes, which occurred in the aftermath of the Rita and Katrina hurricanes. Those storms ended up hitting refinery complex located on the U.S. Gulf Coast in August and September of 2005. Extensive damage was incurred to those refineries and interrupted the supply of crude oil, finished fuels and lubricating oils to the market.

The oil companies were absolved of any wrong doing by the FTC in the "Investigation of Gasoline Price Manipulation and Post-Katrina Gasoline Price Increases” published in the spring of 2006. That report concluded that normal supply and demand market forces were the reasons for the price variances in the petroleum markets.

AG Drew Edmondson has announced his intentions to be a candidate for Governor in Oklahoma in 2010. That announcement and the filing of the lawsuit against BP/Arco were coincidentally made on June 10, 2009. Any outcome of this lawsuit will definitely also have an effect on the upcoming election in crude oil rich Oklahoma.

Bob van der Valk is the Director of US Branded Licensing with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington and can be contacted at (971) 678-2975 or by email at:

Bob’s web site address is:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dateline: Terry, Montana
June 23, 2009 2:30 PM MDT
By: Bob van der Valk

April showers may bring May flowers but this year it also brought forth a spring time renewal for oil refiner’s profits. This was in the form of increased demand for gasoline after dismal first quarter results in 2009. But now the June swoon has come too soon and the oil companies are looking forward to those summer breezes peeking just around the corner

I was waxing somewhat poetic while reading a flood of news reports this week about gasoline prices in the U.S. and Canada dropping for the first time in over seven weeks. The average price for gasoline in both countries has dropped a whopping seven tenth of a cent of a gallon or liter this week. Motorists have been practically been dancing in the streets celebrating their new found fortune according to on the spot media reports from many parts of the country. Some are even quoting some experts about gasoline prices having peaked and to be going down for the remainder of this year.

But wait just a minute! How come the price of crude oil dropped $5 to around $69 a barrel in the last two weeks but gas prices have only gone down by a fraction of a cent during that same time? Haven’t we been told by some of the pundits that gas prices always move in lock step with crude oil prices? That for every dollar a barrel change in the price of crude oil we are supposed to see gasoline move up or down 2.5 cents per gallon at the pump?

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. This time around the major oil companies are not matching the independent unbranded gasoline rack prices down as fast as you were expecting. The difference between the major branded dealer tank wagon and independent unbranded gasoline prices is now over 20 cents per gallon in the U.S. and 5 cents per liter in Canada. This phenomenon is known in our industry as: “Gas prices shoot up like a rocket, and drift down like a feather”.

In this case the oil companies are stocking up to be prepared in case those summer breezes change into hurricanes. Gasoline demand has increased with April being the latest month on record showing an increase over the same month last year. So with Canada Day on July 1st and the U.S. July 4th weekend just around the corner do not expect to see pump prices coming down a lot this week.

Different average gas prices have been bandied about by various agencies of the government and private companies with the motoring public somewhat confused about which number to believe. For instance on June 22nd the Energy Information Agency (EIA) showed the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. to be at $2.691 while the AAA fuelgauge reported it at $2.69. Those two seem to be in sync but on the other hand the web site reported the average U.S. price at $2.663 per gallon.

The difference in the two reports is that the EIA and AAA uses information provided through credit card purchases. The web site has price spotters, who log in and report pump prices from their local gas stations for both cash and credit cards.

For instance Arco stations do not accept anything other than cash or debit cards at their pumps and are usually the lowest price in their neighborhood. That tends to skew the average price per gallon by about 3 cents per gallon. This is due to dealers, who do accept all types of credit cards, having to price their gasoline higher by having to pay a merchant fee for each transaction to their banks.

In the short term prices will continue to go up another 25 cents per gallon between now and middle of August. After Labor Day gasoline prices will ebb down slowly and by Thanksgiving go back down to about where they were last year at the same time. That means you can start looking forward to $2 per gallon gasoline at a gas station near you by Christmas this year.

Now you know what is going to be happening in the refining and marketing end of the oil industry, you should go fill up your tank by this weekend before gas prices are raised. In the Badlands of Eastern Montana we believe in the moral behind the fable of the “Milkmaid and Her Pail”, which goes: “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched!”

Bob van der Valk resides in Terry, Montana and is the Director of US Branded Licensing with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington. He can be contacted at (971) 678-2975 or by email at:

Bob’s web site address is:

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The insider’s secret on how gasoline is priced

Dateline: Terry, Montana
June 18, 2009 11:00 AM MDT
By: Bob van der Valk

After emigrating to the U.S. from Holland, at the young age of 15, I learned to speak English by watching Saturday morning cartoons and listening to Elvis Presley songs on the radio.

English was a mysterious language to me and it took a while before I caught on to the finer nuances of speaking English. The kids at North Miami High School in Florida thought that my Bugs Bunny and Elvis Presley voice impressions were a riot and I l quickly was able some good friends.

The U.S. and Canadian motoring public learn much about the cause of the wild gas price gyrations from the same type of sources.

Crude oil prices are usually made out to be the culprit and blamed by the media for the gas price roller coaster rides. But is not the only factor in the current round of fuel price spikes. Today gas prices tend to influence and support crude oil prices. That opinion runs counter to the conventional view that crude oil drives gasoline prices.

It is the inverse of what occurred with fuel prices in 2007 and early 2008 in the petroleum industry. Since August last year, fuel prices have been driving crude oil prices up and down.

It is my prediction that crude oil may hit $85 in the near term and then ebb back down to $40 by the fall of this year. By Christmas 2009 the price of gasoline in the U.S. should be around $2 per gallon with Canada at 90 cents per liter.

In early August 2008, I made a forecast, published in the Pasadena (CA) Star News, that crude oil and gasoline prices would go down in the last part of 2008. In August, crude oil was still hovering around $140 a barrel and gasoline was over $4 a gallon in the U.S.

By December 2008 the average price of crude oil was $33 a barrel and gasoline was at $1.60 per gallon. That severe drop was aggravated by the economy’s plunge into its recession along with the financial crisis.

I made a prediction in the January 2009 that gas prices would hit $3 per gallon again by the summer as quoted in the following article:

I have been in the petroleum industry for almost 50 years with all that time spent in the refining and marketing (R & M) end of the business. In my early career I worked in the retail and wholesale departments for Union Oil Company of California a.k.a. Unocal in Los Angeles. This should qualify me as the ultimate insider and expert on the way the petroleum industry prices gasoline.

The U.S. petroleum industry has returned to the basics of refining crude oil into gasoline. Major oil companies have the ability to explore and produce for crude oil and bring it up out of the ground for around $40 a barrel. Any amount over that price is pure profit to the oil companies.

The competitive battle between Exploration & Production (E &P) and R & M managers at the oil companies is back on. Each cannot stand to see the other make all the profits for their company.

In the days before the price of crude oil became paper driven, the R & M department used to have knockdown-drag out fights with the E & P department about the price of crude oil delivered to our refinery gate. In those days, they would price crude oil based on price posted at the well plus transportation costs. R & M would then add the cost to refine the crude into fuels and add the marketing cost to determine the wholesale or dealer tank wagon prices.

Today, they take the easy way out and relate their refinery gate crude oil price to the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price plus or minus a discount for quality and location. For instance, the posted price for Elm Coulee crude oil in Richland, Montana is currently fetching the WTI daily posted price less $10 a barrel at the well head. R & M still has to add their costs to that price and relate that to the current wholesale and retail prices in order to stay competitive.

In March of 2001 Tom O’Malley, then CEO of Tosco, got tired of losing money for part of the year then trying to make it back during the spring time and summer driving seasons. He announced to his refining and marketing management team at a company meeting in their Phoenix headquarters, that they would tie their retail prices to the wholesale spot market price for gasoline and diesel.

The petroleum market is driven by trades in paper barrels for crude oil and finished products on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). That in turn gives indications to the spot market and it has become a case of the tail wagging the dog.

The other major oil companies soon followed suit and since then the pipeline spot market has been driving fuel prices up and down. Today’s gasoline prices are based on a “What the market will bear” strategy by the major oil companies. In the 4th quarter of 2008 and 1st quarter of 2009 refineries lost big time money. Some of them, including the Big West refinery in Bakersfield, were forced to close down due to poor economics. This trend will continue as long as the big money investors stay on the sidelines and cause more havoc in the petroleum markets.
Goldman Sachs & Co., Morgan Stanley and other large investors are able to sidestep regulations that limit investments in commodities such as crude oil. They are investing on behalf of pension funds, endowments, hedge funds and other big institutional investors, in part as a hedge against rising inflation. Crude oil investment is used to offset the weaker dollar with the money going back and forth as the world economy continues its slow recovery
A stream of financial deregulation under the Clinton administration, culminated in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. These over-the-counter markets are 10 times larger than the futures market with no position limits and almost no regulations to control their investments.
I have now revealed my secrets on the mystery of fuel pricing to you. I hope that the answer is as simple as watching those Saturday morning cartoons in order to learn to speak English.

Bob van der Valk is the Director of US Branded Licensing with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington and can be contacted at (971) 678-2975 or by email at:

Bob’s web site address is:

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

All We Need to Survive: Water, Food and …….Gasoline!

Dateline: Terry, Montana
June 3, 2009 - 11:30 MST
By: Bob van der Valk

While the market sorted itself out yesterday, I was busy trying to keep from running out of water at the Bob's Big Boy Ranch in Terry, Montana. At one point we not only had our artesian well down but our hard water well had shut down as well. Unexpectedly, we had to make a quick trip and run out to the Terry Super Valu grocery store to stock up on bottled water. We may well be having a similar problem happening right now in the refining and petroleum business.

With crude oil being pumped out of the ground like water, any interruption will cause consumers to look for options to maintain some sense of normalcy. In our case, we almost decided to move back in with our daughter Inger and her family while the repairs were being made. But, what do we do when we run out gasoline? We can't do anything especially when living out in the country where long distances have to be covered by car or truck every day.

The Department of Energy statistics were bearish for diesel and neutral for gasoline today. The wholesale spot market price is down 4 cents per gallon for diesel and no change for gasoline, so far. So far the July WTI crude oil price is down $2.21 to $66.34 a barrel. The Nymex is off for now but there is doubt it will stay down that much at the close of business today with buyers perched to jump in as soon as they sense the low has been reached.

This year it's all about oil refineries being able to keep up with the expected increase in demand of gasoline for the upcoming summer driving season. Petroleum traders will be concentrating on the supply issues with the biggest focus on refinery gasoline output.

This morning's Department of Energy report is the tale of the tape for an upcoming fight between the bulls and the bears in the petroleum market. There are plenty of points to go around supporting both sides of the arguments to reach conclusions that crude prices and therefore gasoline prices may either shoot like a rocket or go back down with a bullet.

President Obama was greeted by Saudi King Abdullah upon landing in the Middle East today. He also received the news that the Saudi Arabian Oil Company Aramco had raised their crude oil prices from $1.05 to $3.25 a barrel for shipments in July 2009. The heavy crude oil is the one at the lowest with the light crude oil selling at the highest price. All of their crude oil prices are ratcheted up or down from the posted Brent crude oil price.

Our water situation will be resolved within a day or two but the current market situation for gasoline prices will continue to play itself out throughout the summer months. Right now the Four Corners gas station in Terry still has plenty of gasoline in the tank but it us 10 cents per gallon more today then it was a week ago.

We better keep the horses saddled up and ready just in case we will need them for back up. There may come a time when I will have start reporting the prices of hay and alfalfa instead of gasoline.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Will Motorists Suffer a Memorial Day Gas Price Hangover?

Dateline: Terry, Montana
By: Bob van der Valk
05-26-2009 10:00 AM MST

The July WTI crude oil price is a basic no change down 21 cents to $61.46 a barrel. The spot market gasoline price is up 1 cent per gallon and diesel no change so far this morning. The average price for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.421 per gallon in the U.S. with the West Coast at $2.667 per gallon.

U.S. motorists were expected to drive a little more this Memorial Day weekend with renewed optimism that the economic slump has hit bottom. Expectations of gasoline use were put at 1.8% higher than Memorial Day last year with the economy in the recovery mode.

The consumer confidence index for May jumped to 54.9 from 40.8 in April 2009. The index is now at its highest since September 2008 based on a graph published by the Confidence Board based on research done by TNS, Taylor Nelson Sofres PLC is the world’s largest custom market research company in 80 countries, shows the following:

Over the weekend we did have some bad news with the possibility that Nigerian violence will cut oil output. ChevronTexaco was forced to cut off about 100K barrels of crude oil supply representing about one fourth of the total output for Nigerian crude oil. Most of that crude oil is destined for U.S. refineries and any interruption in the supply of crude oil will have an immediate impact on prices.

On top of that North Korea successfully set off an underground atomic blast and also fired off a couple of missiles over the weekend. This was in an apparent attempt to prove that they are going to be capable of launching an atomic weapon at any of their enemies.

By far the most positive comment for stability in the immediate future of oil prices was the statement released by the Saudi Arabia oil minister Ali al-Naimi over the weekend. He stated that OPEC will likely stay the course with regards to production cuts at the upcoming meeting this Thursday in Vienna. This was an advance signal for discussions between him and Steven Chu, the U.S. Energy Secretary, to show support their in assisting the economic recovery.

Take a little "Hair of the Dog" if you are having a weekend hangover but keep your gas tanks full as gasoline prices are not expected to come back down before the fall of this year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It’s a Real Gas to Talk Gasoline Prices

Dateline: Terry, Montana
May 18, 2009
By: Bob van der Valk

My wife and I recently struck up a conversation with a very nice elderly couple while shopping and waiting in line to have some fabric cut at the Jo-Ann store in Bellevue, Washington. The wait was almost 45 minutes so we had plenty of time to discuss various subjects. Our conversation quickly turned to the state or our economy after comparing how many years each of us have been married to our spouses.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Crude Oil and Gasoline Prices Undergoing Stress Test

Don't look now, but the price of crude oil has been moving sharply higher over the last couple of weeks That is now up 80 per cent over the last 3 months with the price of WTI crude oil increasing from $32 to $58 a barrel in just a short thee months. The price of was up another 85 cents per barrel early Friday heading towards the $60 a barrel mark by the end of the day. Fuel prices for gasoline and diesel are going up in lockstep with another 2-3 cents per gallon increase today.

At the same time the national gasoline price per the AAA fuelgauge report from went from $1.56 to $2.16 per gallon as of today. This would normally set off alarm bells in the media with articles about suspected gas price gouging. These would then be followed up with the usual threats of investigation by head line grabbing politicians and divergent government agencies.

Reporters have been quick to report that at $2.16 we are still paying almost a buck and a half per gallon less than we did before Memorial Day last year. Their question of the day remains: “Why are prices now heading back up to $2.50 on the West Coast and the national average to $2.25 per gallon?”

In plain and simple terms the refineries have finished making their switch to summer gas and it reduces supplies by 10% per cent. This year, however, as gasoline prices have been going back up the price of crude oil has been dragged up along with it.

Along with that President Obama's current budget proposal, which must be approved by Congress, includes ending "unjustified tax loopholes" for oil companies. That will raise $26 billion over the next 10 years for alternative energy development.

The White House rejected as "unfounded" industry claims that by ending the tax breaks it would take a significant toll on US domestic oil and gas production. It said oil and, to a large extent, gas are internationally traded commodities whose prices are determined on the world market. "The oil and gas subsidies are costly to the American taxpayer and do little to incentivize production or reduce energy prices," the administration said in its budget package submitted to the Congress.

The budget also includes increasing federal road taxes on gasoline and diesel with 10 and 14 cents per gallon being added to the 18.4 and 24.4 cents respectively.

Price of gasoline is not going to going back down any time soon perhaps not until the fall of this year. But that will be another story for another day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Happy Cinco de Gaso

It is Cinco de Mayo in the US to celebrate Mexican heritage and pride. We also commemorate this day in Holland as Bevrijdingsdag or Liberation Day. It is celebrated each year on May 5th in the Netherlands (the official name for Holland) to mark the end of the Nazi occupation during World War II.

The nation was liberated by Canadian troops, with the assistance of the British and American armies. After the liberation in 1945, Liberation Day was commemorated every 5 years. Finally, in 1990, the day was declared to be a national holiday with the liberation celebrated every year.

The provinces of Utrecht, North and South-Holland were the last provinces in Holland to be liberated. The population in that area suffered greatly during the winter of 1944-45 from starvation and bombings. My family lived in The Hague, South Holland and was able to survive the hunger winter. We eventually were able to immigrate to the US on special visas issued under the Refugee Relief Act of 1954.

We have been in the US for almost 53 years and I have spent 50 of those working in the petroleum business. My family was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to live and work in this country with its many generous people.

The June WTI crude oil price is down 50 cents back down to below $54 a barrel. The spot market prices for gasoline and diesel are down 2 cents per gallon this morning as well.

The oil traders are now looking ahead to the weekly Department of Energy inventory statistics being published tomorrow morning. Gasoline prices will spike up if they show another big draw for gasoline stocks as they did last week. This will be regardless of crude oil stocks anticipated to increase once more.

May is the typical month in which summer driving season starts. Gasoline prices will be staying firm with lower than normal supplies available. Refineries are also keeping a tight hold on production

OPEC is also providing support for the oil price by indications that they are not happy with $50 a barrel and hinting at further production cuts when they meet later this month in Vienna, Austria. Warren Buffet emerged from his office and sounded positive notes providing support to the raw commodity markets as well.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Stop the Swine Flu Bug

Super Bowl Fever is gone, March Madness is over and April swine flu fever is now spreading throughout the world. This dreadful disease has to be stopped in its tracks at least by calling it something else.

At a news briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took pains to repeatedly refer to the flu as the "H1N1 virus."

The "H1N1 Influenza Type A Virus" is the actual correct, but hard to remember, name for the current swine flu epidemic sweeping throughout the news media.

Israel has already rejected the name swine flu, and opted to call it "Mexico flu." Jewish dietary laws forbid the eating of pork. The Muslim world has also joined the cause and came up with their own suggestion to call it "Netanyahu flu".

The CDC has now decided to conduct a contest to give this dreadful disease a more appropriate name in the US. They will be using the newly adopted name in their news conferences keeping the anxious public updated. Following are some of the sample entries received so far:

- Hamthrax- Aporkalypse- Hypefluenza- Sowmonella- Global Hamdemic- Epigdemic- Hamageddon- Baconsumption- Wilburculosis- Smallporx

Additional entries should be forwarded to the White House attention of Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States. He will evaluate them for further consideration by a panel of judges appointed by the President.

Perez Hilton, Tom Vilsack and Janet Napolitano have tentatively been picked by President Barack Obama to judge this contest to decide the winning entry.

Timothy Geithner is considering instructing the Treasury Department to take over the pork industry and combines it with the banks and auto industry. The Department of "Babe" is the name tentatively picked for this new government controlled entity. Bill Clinton has shown interest in running this new company and has promised to get us to at least start talking about something or someone else for a while.

You can do your part and join the "Stop the Swine Flu Bug" (SSFB) movement by signing up in the comment section at:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flu Bug Bites Oil Market

Petroleum traders have been keeping a weary eye on the news about the swine flu spreading to other parts of the world. But by now they are used to having the least amount of bad news effect crude oil and in turn fuel prices.

However, the current scare may be short lived as the real story behind the headlines is just beginning to develop. Another medical authority in the field, Dr. Jay Gordon from Santa Monica, CA, has been sending out Twitter messages in the last few day to let people know that the World Health Organization has only able to confirm 7 deaths in Mexico, from the new H1N1 swine flu virus strain, not the 20 being reported far and wide by various media outlets.

Dr. Gordon says that the reason the swine flu pandemic being hyped by the media is to get people to obtain unnecessary vaccinations with Tamiflu to prevent from getting this disease.

The WTI crude oil price is went another 22 cents to 49.92 a barrel on fears that this new flu strain is going to further depress already bleak oil demand. Gasoline and diesel spot market prices on the West Coast dropped 1 - 3 cents per gallon. Pump prices will follow and the average price may even get back down below $2.30 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline by the end of this week in California. The average price of $2.05 per gallon for gasoline will dip by about the same amount to $2.02 per gallon for the whole of the US.

Oil prices tumbled yesterday under a sea of panic as "swine" flu fever gripped the world's media and the worlds oil markets. Although the probabilities of this evolving into a world wide killer pandemic are still small, the fears of such an occurrence happening are enough to spark short selling in the energy markets. Air travel has already been affected, with the current media hype exaggerating the outbreak of this new strain, as people avoid areas with outbreaks of the flu.

The other shoe will drop on diesel and jet fuel prices if this havoc continues any longer. Jet fuel will start backing up into the distillate stream of the refineries and cause a free fall in both jet and diesel fuel prices.

In other news the Shell refinery in Anacortes, Washington is still struggling to get back up into full operation and is now expected to be up as soon as tomorrow. The Shell and the Tesoro refineries in Anacortes went down on Friday, April 24th due to an unexpected power outage. That will keep fuel prices up and supplies tight in the Northwest US.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome to the Bountiful Age of Crude Oil

This week’s DOE inventory statistics came in way over expectations for crude oil stocks rising almost 4 million barrels, twice the number predicted by industry analysts. For the time being, we've got plenty of crude oil on hand but will it continue to be enough for the future?

Finished product prices have remained flat and crude oil prices on the Nymex remained unchanged. In plain language, that means while crude oil prices meander up and down, gasoline and diesel prices are staying firm due to the expected increase in summer demand.

The June WTI closed up roughly 30 cents at $48.85 a barrel today. That price had jumped up a whole $2 a barrel from the May crude oil price, which had settled at $46.64 a barrel on Tuesday afternoon.

Short sellers came into the market on Monday squeezing crude oil prices down almost $5 a barrel before it started recovering late Tuesday. Goldman Sachs, the only investment company with positive earnings in the last quarter, led the charge causing prices to reflect the advice they had issued to their investors over the weekend.

Gholamhossein Nozari, Iran's OPEC governor, spoke at a recent news conference and declared that the oil cartel may decide to cut production at their forthcoming meeting being held in Vienna, Austria at the end of May. He also said that the market continues to remain oversupplied due to the high level of crude oil inventories currently being stored in consumer countries.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, France announced a week ago that global demand for oil will decline by 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd), giving credence to economists’ consensus that the world’s economy will not recover until 2010.The IEA stated that such a decline in demand has not been seen in almost 30 years. At the current level of 83.4 million bpd, the world’s demand for oil is already a full one million bpd lower than expected.

The petroleum market awaits the eventual recovery of the US and world economies. But, as our economy shows signs of healing, crude oil and fuel prices will start rising steadily again. It means that you can relax and enjoy your time of plenty with gasoline staying between $2 and $2.50 per gallon for about a month.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another Day - Same Old Story for Crude Oil and Gasoline Prices

The van der Valk Gas Price Advisory for 4-17-09

Dateline: Issaquah, Washington
April 17, 2009 12:30 PM PST
By: Bob van der Valk

The May WTI crude oil price is up 35 cents to $50.33 a barrel at the close today. The wholesale spot market price for gasoline and diesel went up about a penny per gallon almost in concert with the crude oil price

It's another day - same old story in the petroleum markets.

First - The US Federal Reserve announced a 1.5% month on month decline in industrial production and capacity yesterday. Crude oil prices reacted the other way of expectations by going up this morning in reaction to that bad news

Second - Last week the International Energy Agency, headquartered in Paris, lowered its forecast for global oil demand for this year by 1 million barrels a day down to 83.4 million barrels, which is 2.4 million barrels a day below the 2008 level.

Third - US crude oil inventory levels are now at a 20-year high and refineries are running at just 75% of their current capacity. Fuel conservation has forced the oil companies to reevaluate their 2009 game plan in view of the uncertainties in our economy.

Fourth - Gasoline prices went up some more this week. It's no wonder the average motorist cannot figure out what will be happening to fuel prices in the next month or for that matter the rest of the year. The US average price for gasoline is hovering around $2.05 per gallon today per the AAA fuelgaugereport. The price on the West Coast is still around $2.32 per gallon.

Crude oil will continue to hover around the $50 per barrel mark when at the same time gasoline and diesel prices will be increasing steadily upward. On the West Coast the average price for gasoline is predicted to be $2.50 by Memorial Day and $3.00 by the middle of summer if the current trend continues but... you never know what may be around the corner when a world crisis, weather or refinery problems causes prices to go haywire again. Retail diesel prices will stay about 10 cents per gallon above gasoline prices. The remainder of the country will follow suit and their average price for gasoline will be around $2.50 per gallon by mid-summer.

Refiners have been successful in putting their foot firmly on the hose to constrict the flow of fuel to the market. They have reduced utilization below capacity before their usual planned, maintenance-related springtime reductions. Some shut production down completely earlier this year in order to perform spring maintenance known as turn-a-rounds. The combination of planned and unplanned reductions put 2009 refinery use at its lowest level in the last four years.

The US petroleum industry understands one thing very well and that is that you have to continue to make a profit in order to stay in business. It's either that or going broke and then they will be out of a job.

Go aplusk!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Highway Robbery for California Gas Station Owners

Samuel Johnson said: "Hell is paved with good intentions." It seems that saying applies to unhappy independent service station owners in California today. They made it a through a down turn in the economy and barely survived a recession that is still taking its toll.

Then along comes the bad news in the form of inaction by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on the letter from Governor Schwarzenegger requesting a delay or holiday in the implementation date set for the Enhanced Vapor Recovery Phase II regulation.

Air Quality Management District personnel have been out in force in the field for the last 10 days. They have been writing up their Notices of Violation to any service station property owner not meeting the mandated April 1, 2009 deadline.

Collateral damage has been caused in the form of gas stations and truck stops being forced to lock up their gasoline pumps or worse yet shut down their whole facility. By CARB’s own count about 5% of the gas stations, designated as Gasoline Dispensing Facilities (GDF), have already done just that.

The number of stations being reported as being in compliance by CARB and the Air Districts are confusing at best.

In some cases stations with pulled permits are already being counted as being in compliance when in fact they have not yet been fully certified. A good faith effort apparently suffices just to make their numbers look better.

By any count almost 40% of the 11,500 California gas stations have not fully complied with the EVR Phase II regulation. Of that number about 1,000 are expected to hang up their nozzles for the last time and lock up their pumps by December 31, 2009. That is the drop dead date by which station owners will have to make the investment to install the vapor enhancement equipment or be shut down by the air districts.

Fines are being imposed based on the level of compliance and volume of gasoline pumped ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 per month for each station.

Apparently this was meant to serve as notice by the regulators to recalcitrant owners, who did not heed the warnings given out as early as 2000, that the rule would be enforced. Fact of the matter is that the regulation passed through the approval process by CARB and the California legislature without those technologies even being in place.

Major oil companies jumped on the band wagon early by insisting that the law be enforced if they were going to be making the required investment. The service station equipment manufacturers went to work and one system was approved by CARB in 2005. As late as 2008 two more systems were certified and at this writing one more is in the works to be approved by CARB.

As magic would have it each system became more economical than the one before. It was even made it possible to retrofit the nozzles being used by stations equipped with the Phase I equipment. The earlier approved system was only able to interface with its own equipment and was not adaptable to the other systems. Initially station owners had to make a choice to replace their whole system or wait it out until 2008 to retrofit their existing nozzles and install the scrubbers with the CARB certified equipment made to fit their own equipment specifications.

Up jumped the devil just as things were beginning to look up for the independent service station owners. The recession came along with the resulting financial tightening of the credit market. Station owners in the process on obtaining loans were put on hold and told to wait until the banking situation straightened itself out.

Accusations are now being made by regulators and clean air organizations such as the Sierra Club that this group of station owners is not doing their part for cleaner air in California. The station owners are citizens, who live and breathe the same air just like the rest of their fellow Californians. In the past they have made improvements to their facilities to aid in the clean air effort and have plans to continue to do so in the future.

In-Station Diagnostic (ISD) portion of the law takes affect in a year and the EVR Phase II compliance date could have easily been coincided with the implementation of that program. One program interfaces with the other when both of them installed at the same time could save the owners money.

Also starting in 1998 new automobiles in California had Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery (ORVR) systems installed on them. The ORVR system captures the gasoline vapors that are displaced when gasoline is dispensed to the vehicle tank and stores those vapors in a canister filled with activated carbon. When the vehicle engine is started, gasoline vapors stored on the carbon are purged and burned in the engine. The ORVR system on new cars interferes with the ISD system creating false readings that throws the system into alarm at the station.

As of 2008 about 65% of the automobiles and light trucks in California are equipped with the ORVR system and about 94% of them will be so equipped in another ten years. In other words the ORVR and the EVR Phase II system will overlap each other recapturing the gasoline vapors during fill ups. California station owners will have spent a lot of money for little gain all in the name of attaining cleaner air.

Reasonable people should be making reasonable choices and this time Californians are going to get hurt right where it will hurt them the most – in their pocket book.

It’s time for each of us to open our windows and stick out our heads and yell like broadcaster Howard Beale did in the movie Network: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Has the US Petroleum Industry Learned from its Past?

The van der Valk Gas Price Advisory for 4-9-09

Quoting George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

The amount of money being poured into commodities investments was $1.5 billion in the first quarter of 2009; almost triple that of the end of 2008. That amount of money was being invested significantly when oil dipped below $50. Investors in commodities have a great influence on crude oil prices as the lessons from the past years have taught us.

The June WTI crude oil price is up $1.89 at $51.27 a barrel this morning with several factors, including gasoline demand exceeding supply poised to send prices even higher. Crude oil will be pulled up by the price of gasoline instead of vice versa.Equities have also been given a boost as well and are up this morning based on a strong earnings report from Wells Fargo. The West Coast spot market gasoline is up 7 cents and diesel 4 cents per gallon so far today.

Gasoline and diesel pump prices continue their march upwards regardless of the ups and downs in crude oil prices. Per the AAA fuelgaugereport the average per gallon prices for gasoline range all the way from $2.36 in San Diego, $2.33 in Los Angeles to $2.313 in Seattle up about 1 penny per gallon from the day before. The average price in the US is at $2.051 and prices are expected to increase with the holiday weekend traveling ahead.

With no relief in sight it would not be a surprise see prices heading back up at $3 a gallon on the West Coast of the US by the middle of summer
Prices will be being affected by adverse weather such as hurricanes, rising crude oil costs and now hopes that the worst of the recession is behind us.

California has in own unique blend of gasoline and it costs more to produce California Air Resources Board Oxygenated Blend (CARBOB). With the "Oxygenated Blend", refiners must mix a complex gasoline and ethanol concoction to cut down on emissions. CARBOB gasoline coupled with a seasonal change from a winter to summer-grade gasoline blend have tightened supplies and therefore raised the price at the pump. But rising gasoline prices also contribute to state and local government treasuries as well and are taking in a share of the increased prices at the pump.

Only time will tell if the petroleum industry has learned a lesson from their past mistakes.