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As gas prices rise, the finger-pointing has started. It’s President Joe Biden’s fault, says the right. The left blames Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Neither is entirely true, though Vlad bears more of the blame than Biden. 

Here’s a quick guide how oil prices work. First, oil is sold as a global commodity, and pricing can be complicated — supply, demand, the type of oil, speculation, global affairs — all play into what we pay at the pump.

So here are some things you need to know about the factors that influence oil prices: 

• Crude oil is sold on the global commodities market because it is a product that is generally the same no matter where it comes from or who produces it. Other commodities include corn and beans, gold and copper. The price of commodities rises and falls based on supply and demand.  

• In the case of crude oil, demand increased rapidly as pandemic restrictions lifted. Oil production in the United States did not increase. Inventories of domestic oil have not kept up with demand, and oil companies aren’t in a hurry to change that. Why? They make more money when prices are high. The Biden administration says there are 9,000 oil and gas exploration leases granted to U.S. companies that are not being used. If they were used, inventories would increase, and prices would go down.  

• The war in Ukraine has constrained the flow of oil. While the U.S. received very little oil from Russia, the global marketplace means we pay more because there’s less supply.

• Middle East nations that make up the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have refused to release more oil from their wells. Saudi Arabia, not a member of OPEC, has also refused to increase production. Why? Partly due to politics — Biden has been critical of Saudi human rights violations in its war with Yemen — and partly because they make a lot more money when prices are high.  

• The price of distillate fuel has risen, taking the overall global prices higher. Distillate fuel is used in diesel trucks and freighters, and demand for the fuel skyrocketed last year as the need for more consumer goods increased. Why? Before the pandemic, companies were keeping inventories low to keep profits high and shareholders happy. When the pandemic hit, companies were not prepared for the pressures of the market, and demand overtook supply. 

• The price of distillates is getting higher because many companies switched from refining distillates to refining jet fuel, leaving inventories depleted.  

• Speculation. Just like people can invest in stocks in companies, the financial markets also allow people to trade commodities on the futures market — buying future oil. When enough people bet oil prices will go higher, oil prices rise. Speculators took advantage of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and higher prices followed. 

• The cost of a gallon of gas depends on a few other things. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 43 percent of the price of a gallon of gas comes from the price of crude oil. State and federal taxes make up 22 percent; refining costs and profits make up 25 percent; and the final 10 percent is for marketing. Government sulfur limit policies for gasoline also drive up prices. 

The solution to rising gas prices and limited oil supply is clear, and it’s not blaming the president, whomever he or she is. Our government, big and small, must invest in sustainable, renewable resources to provide reliable energy. The U.S. put a man on the moon within a decade of announcing that goal. We should focus our resources and brainpower on oil alternatives. Our planet — and our pocketbooks — will thank us.