• 06.23.11

The True Price Of Gas: What It Should Really Cost To Fill Up

If you follow one gallon of gas from the ground to your car and then to the atmosphere, it gets a lot more expensive than what you pay at the pump.

If you’ve filled up a car recently, you surely think that the price of gas is too high. Of course, you’ve seen the data–gas is much more expensive in other parts of the world than in America, but that doesn’t change how it effects your wallet at the gas station. But take away arguments about which countries subsidize or tax gas the most and focus on the costs of simply using gasoline that aren’t included in the price, and you start to realize you are getting a good deal, even at $4 a gallon.


The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) recently put out a video of their efforts to track the costs of all the externalities of a gallon of gas; the unseen costs that we pay because of each gallon we use. And there are lots of them:

First, consider all the costs of drilling, extracting, and transporting oil. But what’s also important is that any moment gasoline is exposed to the air, it’s also releasing carbon. Even sitting in your car on a hot day means gas is slowly leaking into the air. And then, of course, there is driving. The average car releases 19 pounds of greenhouses gases per gallon of gas burned, a large percentage of the 25 pounds that one gallon releases in its entire lifecycle.

From there, you have to examine the effects of all those emissions. Smog makes people sick. And when you tack on costs for medical expenses like emergency room visits, asthma medication, and missed work due to pollution, the number gets quite high: nearly $1.7 trillion a year in the United States.

Then, of course, there are environmental disasters like oil spills. Though infrequent, they make gas more expensive as well. Take all those costs and divide them by all the gas sold in America, and the CIR found the true cost of gas to be somewhere around $15. So, you’re not only paying less for your gas than our gas-tax-loving European neighbors, you’re also paying less than you should be to cover all the costs that the gas accrues. It doesn’t help your checkbook, but maybe it can make you a little less irate.

Hat tip: Climate Progress

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly