Last time I checked, oil prices were hovering just below $100 per barrel. This reminds me of something I used to obsess about: high oil prices hit some places harder than others.

All else being equal, oil-efficient economies are more insulated from oil price shocks than are economies that require large oil inputs to function. I’m not talking about the amount of oil consumption, but about the "oil-intensity" of an economy. New York state consumes a lot of oil, and it also produces a lot of wealth. Other states, such as Louisiana, consume a lot of oil, but don’t produce anywhere near as much wealth per unit of energy. (In fact, New York produces five times as much wealth per barrel of oil as Louisiana.)

Just so, when oil prices skyrocket, Rhode Island suffers less pain than Texas. And Massachusetts feels less of a pinch than Wyoming. So at the risk of oversimplification, I’ll propose a little schema for the future:

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  1. If the future is likely to bring high oil prices, and
  2. we’d like to remain prosperous, then
  3. we should probably start weaning our economies from petroleum.

Brilliant, I know.

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I guess one potential lesson here is that our big capital investments shouldn’t expose us to decades of oil price shocks. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, highway.) They should insulate us from high oil prices. (Oh, hi there, compact walkable neighborhood.)

So, how do all 50 states stack up? Find out below the jump …

For context, on average, the U.S. consumes 25 gallons of oil for each $1,000 of GDP it produces.

Gallons of oil per $1,000 of economic activity
1 New York 15
2 Rhode Island 17
3 Massachusetts 17
4 Colorado 18
5 California 18
6 Maryland 18
7 Illinois 19
8 Connecticut 19
9 Nevada 19
10 Delaware 19
11 Michigan 20
12 Arizona 21
13 Oregon 21
14 Wisconsin 22
15 North Carolina 22
16 New Jersey 22
17 Virginia 23
18 Minnesota 23
19 Ohio 23
20 Pennsylvania 24
21 Georgia 24
22 Washington 24
23 Utah 24
24 Florida 25
25 Nebraska 25
26 Idaho 26
27 Missouri 26
28 Tennessee 27
29 Indiana 28
30 South Dakota 28
31 New Hampshire 29
32 Iowa 29
33 New Mexico 30
34 Vermont 31
35 Kansas 31
36 Alabama 33
37 South Carolina 33
38 Arkansas 34
39 Oklahoma 34
40 Kentucky 40
41 West Virginia 41
42 Hawaii 41
43 North Dakota 43
44 Maine 44
45 Mississippi 46
46 Texas 47
47 Wyoming 48
48 Montana 49
49 Alaska 67
50 Louisiana 75

Obviously, there are about a trillion reasons for the way these rankings play out. (And keen-eyed readers may notice that energy-producing states are also the most oil-intense economies.) But it sort of doesn’t matter why an economy is oil-inefficient. After all, it’s not as if Kansas is going to get a discount on gas prices because it’s rural and spread out. Rather, places that need a lot of oil to drive their economies will simply find it tougher to keep up if high prices become the norm.

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As a postscript, the United States and Canada are two of the most energy-intensive economies in the world. Countries like Japan and Germany can produce two or three times as much wealth with the same amount of energy. So, all else being equal, when oil prices get high, the North American economy feels two or three times the pain as some of our principal competitors.

So there’s your Turkey Day conversation starter. You’re welcome.

I calculated the figures above using 2004 oil consumption data from the US Energy Information Administration, and 2004 gross state product data from the US Census Bureau.