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That Petrol Emotion: The Morality of Shopping for Gas

Like a lot of people who live in the suburbs, I can choose from about a half-dozen gas stations that are within spitting distance of my house -- spitting distance, that is, if I was somehow able to hock up a lugey and propel it a half mile or so (which, since I'm home with a cold today, I might just be able to do).

Anyway, deciding exactly which gas station to frequent is a complicated process. In one of those ridiculous arrangements familiar to any American with a driver's license, in my community there are two Exxon stations right across the street from each other, veritable mirror images. But ever since the Exxon Valdez oil spill (and the company's reprehensible attempts to avoid responsibility) I refuse to buy from Exxon. So I can't use those two.

Then there's what my family calls "the Christian Chevron." It's a Chevron station with a Jesus fish on its sign and a display board of the sort you see outside churches. This week one side of the sign says "It's Christmas, not Chri$tma$." They also have speakers near the pumps that broadcast Christian radio. I prefer not to be proselytized while purchasing my high-test, so I don't go there.

Across from the Christian Chevron is a Shell station. It's perfectly ordinary and unobjectionable, but it might as well be on one of Jupiter's moons. Its placement doesn't fit with any of my normal commuting patterns. You just can't get there from here. That leaves a small, independently owned gas station and garage, which is where we've been buying most of our gas for the last four years. Last week it closed.

I could go further away. There's a Citgo up Route 29 that has good prices, but Citgo's owned by Venezuela and I don't want to support dictator Hugo Chavez. There's a Mobil station up from that but -- oops -- Mobil's now part of Exxon. Can't go there.

I either need to drill a well in my back yard or start walking.

What do you think? Do you do this sort of philosophical jujitsu when deciding where to buy gas -- or anything else? Leave a comment or take our "John Kelly's Commons" InstaPoll:

By John Kelly  |  December 17, 2008; 10:44 AM ET
 | Tags: gas stations, shopping  
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CITGO's an interesting dilemma - the country that owns it is run by a dictator, but at the same time they've provided low-cost heating oil for US citizens who need it to stay warm in the winter.

I haven't been in a Circuit City ever since they laid off 3000+ of their better-paid employees and replaced them with lower-paid workers.

Posted by: staxowax | December 17, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I think consumers should consider outside influences, and shop accordingly. What other recourse do you have against a company whose actions you find disagreeable? Exxon is a good example. For me, it's Wal-Mart. I have never spent a single penny at any Wal-Mart, which puts me out of step with most Americans I suppose.

Posted by: f-street | December 17, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

My mother is just as bad. But hey, I like living within walking distance of takes 5 minutes.

Posted by: WxDude | December 17, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I don't do Walmart either. I don't like what they are about: driving small stores (which don't get gov't subsidies) out of business, not giving benefits to their employees, etc, etc, etc.

Posted by: spain1969 | December 17, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I wont buy from CITGO, because of Hugo Chavez & his support of Casa de Maryland. It would be like saying I will support Casa de Maryland & the clients they support.

Posted by: Robbnitafl | December 17, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I understand. The only time I've bought from Exxon was when I was on a sparsely-populated stretch of highway and the yellow light came on. And given a choice between a Shell station (with its Nigerian exploits) and the maybe-somewhat-less-evil BP nearby, I go with BP.

Posted by: Janine1 | December 17, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I ran into this problem a few years back when I was researching oil drilling in Alaska. My husband and I usually get our gas from Sunoco which isn't really convenient, but had the least problems of some of the other major oil companies.

I also will not shop at Wal-Mart. I was never a big fan in the first place, but kind of ignored it until one of my favorite pumpkin farms in Pennsylvania (Finney's) closed down because they could no longer compete with Wal-Mart's prices. Though how you can buy a pumpkin cheaper than 50 cents in beyond me.

Posted by: hollysbears | December 17, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I think the one little bit of power we as consumers forget we have is the power of where, or, as it may be, where NOT to spend our money. Follow your conscience!

Posted by: SteveCinNoVA | December 17, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

One other notable with what we refer to as the Jesus Chevron on that heavily traveled stretch in Silver Spring - they had the largest Bush/Cheney sign that I saw in the entire 2004 election cycle there, hanging down from the overhang above the pumps. That was when I stopped going there.
I live in the same area, and usually run with the Shell station at off hours.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | December 17, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I used to have the same issue with Exxon, but there are times when there is simply no alternative, so I have largely given up on that exercise. There is a Sunoco near enough and I like the fact that they have 87, 89, 91 and 94 octane gas - my Saab really seems to run best on 91 and I don't need to pay the super premium for a higher grade of gas. However, I try to get my gas at the BJ's in Fairfax since it is at least $0.10 cheaper than anything this side of Woodbridge (although my daughter found gas near Roanoke yesterday for $1.31).

Posted by: skipper7 | December 17, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

There is no moral choice in gas-buying. Start riding your bicycle instead! Or get more comfortable with supporting evil...personally, I go with the latter.

Posted by: coreyfam | December 17, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I'll buy Citgo over Exxon anyday of the week.

Posted by: AngryLiberal | December 17, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The biker (coreyfam)is right. There are no moral oil companies. You can say the same for Wal-Mart and most multinationals. If you find a local franchise-holder you can tolerate, shop there. I say franchise-holder because there are so few locally owned and operated businesses any more.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 17, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

ALL gasoline comes in a pipeline and it might come from Shell, Sunoco, Citgo etc. Personally I think Yugo Chavez deserves a bullet in the head but I have to buy gas. So for me it's Citgo only in emergency situation. I'll not give that A-hole tinpot dick-tater any more pennies than I can possibly avoid.

Posted by: Etek | December 17, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

John, you're allowing your political views to complicate your life when it comes to buying gasoline. Just simplify your life a little bit by simply sticking your credit/debit card in any of the aforementioned stations. One day this "dilemma" may lead you to have to call AAA who will then more than likely tow you to one of the stations you are trying to avoid.

Posted by: pl48106 | December 17, 2008 8:56 PM | Report abuse

John - Oil is a fungible commodity as is gasoline. If you're buying oil or its products, you ARE supporting Exxon, Chavez, etc. It's jsut business.


P.S. I usually buy at Hess or, if I'm headed down to Potomac Mills, Costco. There's some great prices on Leesburg Pike near Bailey's Crossroads, but there's often a traffic jam.

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 17, 2008 8:57 PM | Report abuse

I shop at Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil and wherever I can get a deal. I understand people have standards, but come on, do people really think that these mega companies are going to be impacted by them not shopping there. That being said, I will draw the line at CITGO, that whack job Chavez can keep his cheap oil, it's the equivilant to Castor giving away half off cigars in NY. BTW I don't smoke

Posted by: RJHNYC52 | December 18, 2008 5:36 AM | Report abuse

What happened to the cycling John who caught all of our imaginations as he negotiated the paths and byways of Blighty last year. We never read of you worrying about C of E petrol stations with "Land of Hope and Glory" playing on the forecourt. Give up the gas guzzler, John, go green again!

Posted by: mfromalexva | December 18, 2008 6:50 AM | Report abuse

John Kelly, if you live where I think you live, why aren't you going to G&G Gas and Towing for your gas needs? Locally owned, friendly service, and free air should you need it. Plus their prices are normally lower than the surrounding stations. AS a proud Silver Spring resident, that's where I get all my gas (except in emergencies).

Posted by: Lindemann777 | December 18, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Do I honestly think that I, alone, will make an impact in the profits of the megacompanies whose policies I find despicable? No, of course not. Unless I singlehandedly bankroll them and suddenly stop, this will not be the case.

Might there be an impact if enough other people do the same? Quite possibly, especially if it's publicly known what it is we object to.(And actually, that's not a bad guideline, come to think of it -- "if everyone else did as I do, would things be better or worse?")

Posted by: | December 18, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I'm not going to get into the morality of gas shopping but I LOVE the title of your post John.

Were you a fan of the band?

Posted by: nbrennan | December 22, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I live near Hagerstown, and we're picky about where we get our gas as well. There's an AC&T in our town, but since they're still connected to Exxon, no go unless absolutely necessary. Ditto Citgo because of Chavez, but there aren't many Citgos around here anyway. We prefer the Gas & Go over at the Weis grocery store here, partly because you can get discounts on gas by shopping there for groceries, and partly because they get their gas from an independent carrier and not one of the big chains. The fact that it's also the cheapest place in Boonsboro helps as well! I know what you mean about the Christian gas stations...there aren't any here, but we avoid that sort of religion-sanctioned harassment like the plague anyway (they may call it proselytizing/evangelizing, but it's just plain harassment).

Speaking of religious proselytizing, we don't eat at McDonald's anymore for the same reason. 12-mile distance to the nearest McD's notwithstanding, I found out several months ago that they have withdrawn their support for gay rights and now are supporting the American Family Foundation (yes, it's one of James Dobson's groups!). No way is our money going to support religion-sanctioned bigotry in any way, shape or form, so no more Big Macs or Dollar Menu splurges for us until the McD's folks come to their senses. (Note to self: find out whether or not Domino's Pizza still supports that anti-choice group that Monahan founded)

The number of times I go to Wal-Mart you can count on one hand, and the nearest one is 15 miles away anyhow. We try to keep our business in Boonsboro and keep the mom-and-pop businesses alive. I take a certain pride in the fact that the only big names in town besides the AC&T are Weis and a Subway franchise. Everything else is local and family-owned, and I hope it stays that way for a long time! Support your local economy!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 23, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

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