Fuel For Thought: The Real Price of Gas in Queens
Mathew Hatami is an oil engineer from Douglaston who works on an oil rig in Algeria.
By Azi Paybarah
In a borough where cars are very much a part of daily life, the price of gasoline is a topic on the minds and lips of many Queens residents.
Besides, where else can you buy the cheapest gas in the borough — but in Long Island City — right down the street from one of the largest oil spills in North America.
As debate continues, the Tribune has taken a close look at the factors surrounding the current state of gas prices and how they are affecting life in Queens.
At The Pump
They are buying gas like it is going out of style at independent gas station operator Inder Parmar’s gas stations.
Parmer said he doubled his profit margin and sells gas 20 to 30 cents below market rate — between $1.89 and $1.99.
Why? Because he ditched his major gasoline supplier Getty/Luk Oil.
Parmar’s stations are located at 49-25 Van Dam Street in Long Island City and 26-27 College Point Blvd and although Getty owns both, Parmar said the company stopped supplying him with gas six months ago.
Around that time, he stopped paying rent, eliminating potential overhead costs for the station.
But Parmar said all gas stations should be selling their product at around $1.89.
“The real reason we are selling gas at such a low price is to expose the truth behind the actions of large oil companies.
“ The true retail gas price for all major oil companies should be $1.89,” he said. “They want to take advantage of public fears and economic instabilities, thus they keep prices at an average of $2.29.”
In response to Parmar’s claims, Getty spokesperson Joe Shwirtz said “You’re getting into an area that is complicated, that is why we don’t comment on gas prices.”
Shwirtz called Parmar “a squatter” and said, “it’s not a matter of Getty singling him out. It’s a matter of him not keeping up his end of the bargain and paying rent.”
An eviction proceeding is currently pending in Queens Civil Court as Parmar continues to sell some of the lowest priced gas in the city.
At The Creek
At the end of Van Dam Street is the shoreline of Newtown Creek, the waterway that runs through the heart of several industrial neighborhoods: Queens’ Hunters Point, Sunnyside and Maspeth, and Brooklyn’s Greenpoint.
According to Riverkeeper, an environmental group, an underground spill of 17 million gallons of oil — roughly 55 acre — was discovered seeping into Newtown’s Creek by the United State Coast guard during a helicopter flight over the area in 1978. That is roughly six million gallons larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
ExxonMobile was named as one of the defendants in a letter from Riverkeeper announcing their intent to sue in federal court. Among the plaintiffs is Councilman Eric Gioia, who represents the neighborhoods along the Queens side of Newtown Creek.
Gioia said the spill was “due to a series of major spills in the 1940s and 1950s and nearly half a century of wanton neglect.”
In The Oil Fields
Before motorists can send gallons of gasoline into their cars by a click of the pump, the oil has to be extracted from the ground.
Unlike the random gunshot that sent oil pouring from the ground in The Beverly Hillbillies, getting oil is a difficult and dangerous process, according to one oil company engineer from Douglaston, Matthew Hatami.
Not only is the process of getting oil misunderstood, so is the company he works for — Halliburton, he said.
Hatami is a 1996 graduate of Cardozo High School and is a field engineer outside the central Algerian city of Hassi Messaoud. There, temperatures exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and missing fingers on the hands of employees is not uncommon and the work is non-stop, Hatami said.
Critics and average gas consumers “don’t understand everything that went into getting gasoline…they don’t’ know all those people who go out there and get that oil,” said Hatami. “They think we’re just sitting back and collecting money. That’s not the oil field at all.”
By the time Hatami is called to a site, scientists and colleagues have scouted the area and located where likely underground oil reserves are located. To get that oil above ground, stimulation is needed. That is Hatami’s job: to crack open the earth, and send pressure into that delicate natural reservoir, and send its valuable contents skyward.
To keep that whole in the ground from collapsing, Hatami said tiny rocks are placed inside, creating a porous passageway for oil. The stimulation and pressure for the oil comes afterwards. But sending a water based liquid is a delicate process, Hatami said. “If you pump water, its going to make everything swell up,” including the rocks lining the oil-bearing reservoir. “You’ll destroy the well,” he added.
But Hatami’s job is far from the view of his neighbors, erasing from their mind how difficult it is to deliver the world’s energy. “We’re on the corner rigging up equipment and sweating every day, that’s Halliburton…In New York, you don’t ever see the trucks…it’s a roll up your sleeves hard working company. When you can’t put the face of the worker on the publicity, it’s a lot easier for people to hate Halliburton.”
From pollution to foreign policy, proponents say the automobiles need to be more fuel-efficient.
Half of America’s fuel comes from overseas, according to Assemblyman Michael Gianaris’ office. The air quality in his Astoria-Long Island City district was ranked among America’s top 10 most polluted nationwide, based on a report from the National Resources Defense Council released last year.
Hybrid vehicles, whose engines run on a mixture of gasoline and electricity, seemingly provide a solution to both problems.
The cars, made by Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chevy and GMC, use smaller amounts of gas and electricity to operate. The first hybrid vehicle available for U.S. consumers was the Honda Insight, which got 70 miles per gallon. That exceeded the efficiency of the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, the 2000 Toyota Prius, which got 50 miles per gallon.
Current available hybrids are the Ford Escape, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, as well as versions of the Honda Civic and Lexus Rx.