Saturday, August 23, 2008

Price of gas at the Polar Pump

We live in a surreal world down here where we don’t have to worry about paying for rent or utilities here, driving to work or gassing up the car. Gas prices have skyrocketed since we’ve been down here. The last time I filled up a tank, I think I paid something like $2.60 a gallon. It was a while ago. Actually I’ve been working down here for so long, I remember being outraged when I read that gas was going over $2 a gallon!

While we don’t have cars to gas up down here (except for a shuttle van during the summer), we do have heavy vehicles that require fuel and of course all of our power comes from generators running on gas. Pretty much everything uses AN8, a high grade jet fuel that we offload from the LC-130s then store in tanks. We typically use about 9000 gallons of fuel each week.

Emergency fuel tanks with snow drifts

Yesterday, Calee and I joined our Station Manager Katie for a trip to the edge of the world, or where the emergency fuel tanks reside. We have seven 5000 gallon tanks and four 10,000 gallon tanks stored about ¾ mile from station. These are in addition to our main storage of forty-five 10,000 gallon tanks in our Fuel Arch and another 5000 gallon tank just outside of the B1 wing.

Windward side of the 5000 gallon tanks

The amount of fuel in the tanks has to be estimated by a dipstick measurement every month. This is to get a reading on our usage and also to assure that the emergency tanks haven’t sprung leaks or fuel-hungry terrorists haven’t stolen our precious gas.

Katie on top of the tank

I’m kidding about the last part but indeed our fuel is a valuable commodity. It’s estimated that the cost to bring our existing fuel on station works out to about $30 per gallon. That’s the cost of buying it, shipping it on a tanker to McMurdo then flying it here on an LC-130 and pumping it out of their tanks into our storage tanks. Now that the cost of fuel has soared out of control in the past few months, it’s now estimated that it will cost more than $50 per gallon to bring in more fuel for the upcoming season.

Katie measuring the fuel levels

Photo by Calee

No wonder why the Antarctic Program is having budget cuts everywhere, from issuing only 2 pairs of socks to each crew member to no longer necessarily flying us all the way back home when we're done with our contracts. There will be a lot of changes in the upcoming season because fuel costs have eaten up budgets...smaller crews, shorter summer seasons and longer winter seasons, fewer flights. We'll be lucky if we get all of the medications and supplies that we've ordered for the next crew.

As much as I'm looking forward to living in the "real" world again, I'm apprehensive about just how much more expensive everything is going to be since the last time I had to buy milk or pay an electric bill. We haven't had any fresh fruit since May but I'm afraid that I won't be able to afford to buy it now from all of the news that I'm reading. And as far as gassing up the car (that I still have to buy when I get back), maybe I'll be lucky enough to find a job within biking distance of wherever we live.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger bigmoose said...

so you're feeling the burden of home, away from home..

my thoughts and prayers are with all you guys at the south pole!


At 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't sweat the details, Heidi. If you can survive pole, you'll be fine where ever you land next.

OhioTom aka NorthOfU

At 1:25 AM, Blogger Neal said...

The longer we stay in this program, the more daunting the task of assimilating back into society becomes.

At 1:10 AM, Blogger genomeboy said...

Please don't worry about the prices back in North America. While things have gone up, it is not runaway inflation.

Fruit is affordable, and plentiful. Gas prices are moderating with oil at $118 a barrel (I guess $3.45 looks good after $4.05), and as long as the fall hurricane season doesn't really hurt Gulf of Mexico production/refining capabilities, prices will continue to drop through the fall.

The good news is that the rise in oil prices has cut consumption, and invigorated the push towards alternative energy, and the popular press is filled with reports of wind and solar, and the push for hybrid automotive technologies.

Maybe some good will come out of the rise in oil...


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