Last time I checked, oil prices were hovering just below $100 per barrel. This reminds me of something I used to obsessabout: 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:

  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.

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? And how does the Northwest fare? Find out below the jump…

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    Thanks to Evelyn Kochanowski for supporting a sustainable Cascadia.

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

    Gallons of oil per $1,000 of gross product
    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-ineffecient. 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.

    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.