According to supporters of the proposed Vancouver Energy oil transfer terminal in Clark County, Washington, growing national demand for vehicle fuel is one reason the project makes economic sense. In testimony this year to the State of Washington, Tesoro Oil Senior Economist Brad Roach said continuing historic growth in U.S. vehicle miles traveled, and growing U.S. vehicle ownership are important indicators of the need for the project. The terminal on Port of Vancouver property would allow for train transport of North Dakota Bakken crude on rail to southwest Washington, and then shipping from there to West Coast U.S. refineries.
Market forces were cited again in recent testimony on the project to the Spokane City Council, by David Boleneus of the Citizens Alliance For Property Rights. The council was considering approval of a symbolic ballot measure vote this fall by local citizens on whether or not to levy local fines against the Vancouver Energy oil trains as they pass through Spokane. As Lens reported, Boleneus testified “that citizens in the state ‘voted’ daily on whether to continue to ship oil by their continued demand for fuel and petroleum based products including wind turbine blades. Without demand there would be no shipments, he added.”
However, do the data actually bear out what Roach and Boleneus contend? The answer is, yes.
The following interactive data visualization shows that U.S. consumers are still voting with their feet. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has continued to rise since 1971, to more than three trillion annually, in recent years. Vehicle ownership is more than double several decades ago. At the same time, adjusted fuel economy has grown only modestly.
Explore all the data in the visualization below, which highlights annual changes over several decades in the indicators. Move your cursor along any of the three lines and hover over any dot for a pop-up box showing the exact data point for a given year.