The hurricane and the gas pump - Higher gas prices are still to come as oil becomes more of a rare commodity

Here's a bucket of Puget Sound water right in the kisser: Gasoline is not going to get cheaper.

In classic cause-and-effect style, Hurricane Katrina's swirling, destructive dance along the Gulf Coast region triggered our recent rate hike at the pump. I say "triggered" because the high-price bullet that has come blasting at us has been loaded in the oil-war gun for a long time.

What's the gunpowder propelling this lump of economic lead at our pocketbooks? It's the unavoidable fact that the worldwide oil supply is reaching its peak, shorthand for the maximum sustainable daily oil output.

Global oil production is tracked on a bell curve. Right now, we're either at the curve's apex or a few years away from it.

Hurricane Katrina walloped the crude right out of Gulf Coast refinery operations. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, that region holds about 10 percent of the nation's oil-refining capacity.

With the Aug. 29 onslaught of extreme weather, our country lost one-fifth of its domestic petroleum output, and the closed and damaged Gulf Coast ports have put a kink in our foreign oil supply.

(By the way, the United States imported 58 percent of its total petroleum supply last year.)

So, here we are, at or near the top of the global oil-production peak. After that, it's heads-up for the consumers dependent on the ancient, slick-black stuff and look out for the developing countries that have the unfortunate luck of sitting on the increasingly rare pools of untapped oil.

Think I'm sounding like Chicken Little here?

Check out the state of global oil production for yourself at www.peakoil. net or www.lifeaftertheoil

You think we have it tough at $3 a gallon? Atlanta residents were paying $5 a gallon in the weeks after Katrina, and the oil industry isn't limiting its price-gouging tactics to the United States.

Britons are paying the equivalent of $7 a gallon right now.

Not everyone will suffer from the end of oil. The petrochemical industries will ride out the decline in gilded SUVs.

Here's the proof: The week after Katrina hit, Democracy Now! reported ExxonMobil was anticipating a profit of more than $10 billion over the last quarter. ExxonMobil made an average of more than $4.5 million every hour for the last three months. This is the most profit a company has ever made in a single quarter.

During this same period gas prices hit record highs.

Peak oil is coming, and Seattle, like the rest of the country and world, is perched at the top of the bell curve with nowhere to go but down the slope of high prices and oil wars.

Pretty damned bleak.

While you should fret, know that this unavoidable hell-ride can be significantly cushioned if we're proactive. Unfortunately, this is something the United States is horrible at doing: Enter Hurricane Katrina once more.

Take action and educate yourself about energy. The websites are a great start.

We need to aggressively pursue the viable alternatives to fossil fuels, such as plant-based biodiesel.

Understanding that the oil era is coming to an end is a blessing, not a curse - but only if we act toward creating ecologically and, therefore, socially, sustainable alternatives.

Erik Hansen is editor of the Beacon Hill News & South District Journal, an associate publication of the Herald-Outlook. He lives in Greenwood. He can be reached at[[In-content Ad]]