Chicago Tribune series traces a gasoline fill-up to its source

Told that tracking gasoline from a single gas station back to its sources was impossible, reporter Paul Salopek did it anyway. In compiling a multimedia series for the Chicago Tribune, Salopek sourced gas dispensed at a Marathon station in South Elgin, Ill., to the Gulf Coast, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Iraq. He then interviewed the varied cast whose lives were affected along the way, from the gas station manager who spends a third of her paycheck fueling her SUV to Nigeria’s Ibibio people and their love-hate relationship with infrastructure-building, oil-spilling ExxonMobil. Salopek visited Iraq, noting that the oil-addicted U.S. buys 15 to 20 percent of its imported crude from the Middle East. He traveled to Venezuela, where gasoline costs 14 cents a gallon. And he talked to economist Milton Copulos, who calculates the true cost of U.S. gasoline made from imported oil — factoring in defense spending and jobs lost to steep prices — at $8 a gallon. Conclusion? The petroleum economy is “beholden to hostile powers and … clearly unsustainable.”