The recent jump in fuel prices are going to have some far reaching effects on our economy. There is speculation that crude oil may soon spike to $150 to $170 per barrel. As prepared individuals, we need to adapt our plans, accordingly. It is noteworthy that many of us long hence foresaw these dark days, and installed underground fuel tanks, bought alternate fuel vehicles, multi-fuel generators, and at least one vehicle just for the sake of fuel economy. (If you look at the Retreat Owner Profiles–most of which were written in late 2005 and early 2006–you will see a remarkable number of fuel-efficient “secondary” vehicles.) SurvivalBlog readers plan ahead, and it shows.
In a recent issue of The Daily Reckoning, Bill Bonner wrote: “Just on Thursday and Friday of last week, wholesale gasoline prices went up 33 cents. No typo. That’s 33 cents, in two days. So let’s round it out and add another $500 to the annual gasoline bill to operate one average automobile in the US of A. If you are a two-car household, make that number $1,000. Just from a two-day spike. And that does not count the impact on diesel (killing trucking and agriculture) and jet fuel (killing airlines).”
Effectively, the recent price jumps will be like inflationary snorts of cocaine. Sooner or later, the higher cost of fuel will be “passed through” to consumers. Can you imagine what will happen to the retail price of just about everything if and when the price of gas tops $5.50 per gallon? Transportation cost increases are significant, but will impact some product prices more than others. The heavier and bulkier the item, or the farther it must travel (all the way from raw material to your doorstep) the greater the impact of the fuel price jumps. (One hint: If you’ve been planning to buy a gun vault, then buy it soon, and do so locally, from inventory that your dealer already has on hand. If you delay, it will likely cost $200 more, this time next year.) What will happen to Fed-Ex , UPS, and US Postal Service rates next year? It won’t be pretty. OBTW, if you are thinking about setting up a home-based mail order business, then you’d had better consider focusing on small and lightweight products, such as used DVDs.
Think through what the fuel prices will do for various product prices and availability (think: spot shortages), and who they will affect life at your retreat.
I predict that there will be a long lag time while the price of propane catches up to the prices of other fuels. The cost of electricity will also lag behind, especially in regions that have predominately hydroelectric power. In the long run, however, prices will undoubtedly catch up. Exploit this lag time to build up the alternative energy potential of your retreat. Think through you options, do some comparison pricing, and then get busy. (Consider the merits and drawbacks of photovoltaics, wind, micro-hydro, bio-gas, biodiesel, geothermal, wood-fired steam/co-generation, and so forth.)
If you are planning to buy additional vehicles for your retreat, consider the following:
One of your vehicles should be a very fuel-efficient runabout. (Something like a used Geo Metro or Toyota Corolla–but for serious preparedness planning avoid the high cost and complexity of a hybrid.) If you need four wheel drive, consider buying a used Subaru. Notably, Subaru all-wheel-drive cars are the most popular cars with America’s contract rural mail carriers. Also consider getting a mo-ped or motorcycle for handling some of your errands in the current pre-Schumeresque times.
Look for a fleet surplus propane-powered pickup. (Utility companies often use these. Watch for auction announcements.) If you could get one that is 4WD, that would be ideal. But even if you can’t find one that is 4WD, one option is finding a 4WD of the same year and the same maker as your 2WD propane-engine truck, and then combining parts to create a “Frankentruck.” Not only would this be great mechanical experience, but it will leave you with another nearly complete vehicle to cannibalize for spare parts. Another option, albeit more expensive, is converting an existing 4WD to propane. Because Propane tanks are large, this is best accomplished with a 4WD pickup. (I have seen pairs of 47-gallon capacity “torpedo tanks” installed above the wheel wells in a pickup box. This allows nearly full use of the pickup bed space.) Since a propane conversion will likely void a warranty, it is best done with an older vehicle that is “out of warranty”. Speaking of propane, don’t miss the recent piece by FerFAL, (SurvivalBlog’s correspondent in Argentina), posted at his personal blog site: Alternative fuel for your car. It describes a gaz naturel comprimé (GNC) conversion done on his Korean import car.
Own at least one E85-compatible “Flex Fuel” vehicle (FFV).
If your budget allows it, consider getting an electric vehicle. (Several times in SurvivalBlog, I’ve mentioned Bad Boy Buggy electric ATVs as well as ATV suspension conversions for electric golf carts.) An electric ATV makes an ideal “at the retreat ” utility vehicle, particularly for someone that has a large alternate power system with a battery bank.
Here is one vehicle possibility that might at first seem counterintuitive: There will probably be thousands of used recreational vehicles (RVs) hitting the market in the next few years–some for pennies on the dollar. Budget-minded preppers might consider buying an older RV to live in, while building their retreats. Just keep in mind that the resale value will likely drop to nearly nothing if gas prices continue to escalate, so only buy one if you can truly get it dirt cheap.
For the really long term, learn as much as you can about horses, and change your purchasing plans is this approach matches your needs and the pasture carrying capacity of your retreat. There is a lot to this: horsemanship, hay cutting (preferably horse-powered), hay storage, pasture fencing, a barn, tack, veterinary supplies, and so forth. Here at the Rawles Ranch, our saddle horse Money Pit may soon have some new friends in the pasture.
Hay and grain prices have been sky high for a full year now, so this has pushed the price of horses down tremendously. At present, in much of the western US, good saddle saddle horses are literally being given away. Just ask around. If you are not yet an experienced rider, then limit your search to older, gentle “bomb proof” mares or geldings. If you have plenty of pasture and hay ground, take advantage of the current low prices for horses. Buy them while they’re cheap. Watch your newspaper classified ads and Craig’s List for horses as as well as tack, hay mowers, and a horse trailer. In addition to saddle horse, think in terms of working horses. So while you are searching for saddles, also look for wagons, buck boards, horse collars, long reins, log chains, and other work horse tack.
Storing extra fuel is a natural for family preparedness. If you use propane, consider buying a larger tank. That fuel will be like money in the bank. Ditto for gasoline and diesel fuel. (See the SurvivalBlog archives for details on fuel stabilizers and and antibacterial additives. (The latter is for diesel. Yes, bacteria will actually grow in diesel fuel.) What size tank(s)? The bigger, the better. That way you can buy during occasional dips in the market as well as have a reserve that will help ride through any spot shortages. Consult you local fire code for any limits where you live. I generally prefer underground tanks, for both OPSEC and fire safety.
Needless to say, flexibility will be your goal with your backup generator(s). Various diesel generator and tri-fuel generators have already been discussed at length in SurvivalBlog. Despite its current high price tag, diesel is still a viable fuel for standby generators. Keep in mind that you can legally burn less expensive off-road (untaxed) diesel, biodiesel, and even home heating oil in your diesel genset. (Of course consult your state and local laws before doing so.)
Higher fuel costs will likely change the way the at you look at your retreat, and where it is located. If you are retired, self-employed, or if you telecommute, the impact won’t be nearly so great. You can simply adapt your lifestyle to make trips into town less often. But if you have a daily job “in town”, then the impact could be substantial. The whole concept of “public transportation” is foreign to folks that live in places like Wyoming or the Dakotas. Even carpooling can be difficult for people that live in lightly populated areas. OBTW, speaking of carpooling, I predict that both carpooling and ride sharing will undergo a great resurgence in the next few years. The information networking power of the Internet will undoubtedly be put to full use in matching drivers/riders and destinations. The carpooling networking sites like SpaceShare and eRideShare will probably become very popular.
Remote properties will seem even more remote when gas tops $5 per gallon. This has both positive and negative implications. The good news is that it will make remote properties more affordable and will also make them less likely to fall prey to “commuter criminals” and looters. But the bad news is if you are trapped in a corporate job and must commute to work. Ditto for farmers and ranchers that must get what they produce to market.
If you have not yet bought a retreat, then you might want to make the new fuel cost paradigm a more important part of your locale selection process. As I’ve mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, if you do some concerted searching, you might be ale to find a piece of land with a low-volume natural gas well, or a surface coal seam. Another possibility is finding a property with a large year-round stream and sufficient change in elevation (“fall”) allowing installation of a micro-hydro system. If you are an adherent to Peak Oil theory, then you might consider buying a retreat that is close to a community in a truck farming region–someplace that can expected to be self-sufficient in the event of chronic gas and diesel shortages. There are of course security trade-offs, so such a decision might be a momentous one to make. (Since most survivalists value having “elbow room”.)