Can’t say what the net effect of Iranian crude on the world oil market will be. It’s not looking good for the Alberta tar patch or U.S. frackers, but that’s not what this is about.
Before he passed last April just short of his 9oth birthday, I spent a week with my uncle Larry Edwards in Ponoka, Alberta. Ponoka’s the Real McCoy, a cowtown on the highway between Edmonton and Calgary, home of the Ponoka Stampede and the Ponoka International Airport. Every summer just prior to the Calgary Stampede, the airport hosts an invasion of rodeo stars from across North America, flying in on their private jets to compete in what everyone says is the last pure rodeo. The rest of the year, Ponoka is a drive away from wherever people want to be, whether it’s Calgary or Edmonton or Red Deer.
I was sitting with Larry in the Ponoka Hospital while he was getting a platelet transfusion for the leukemia that was killing him. We got around to talking about the oil companies. The perfidy of Big Oil was one of Larry’s best rants. Like most Western Canadians, Larry and Bernice drove a lot, and I’m not talking about shopping in Red Deer. They’d hop in the SUV for the half-day drive to the family farm in Three Hills or a day’s spin to Saskatchewan to see Larry’s daughter. They’d take a quick spin over the Rockies to Vancouver. Or they’d drop the camper into the pickup and head East to see family in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. When it came to knowing how to get the best mileage out of whatever he was driving, the canny old farmer had it.
“Jim, there’s something fishy with Canadian gas,” Larry said that afternoon. “You just don’t get the same mileage with it that you do with U.S. gas.” It wasn’t the price difference or the metric/Imperial conversion, he went on, but the bang for the same quantity. “Don’t believe me. Try it yourself.”
I was skeptical. Gas is sold according to octane rating. All else being equal, two tankfuls of gas of the same octane rating should deliver the same mileage. But since my conversation with Larry I’ve been running my own experiment. I drive a 2010 Toyota Venza V-6 with AWD. When I fill up on this side of the border with 87-octane regular, I get in the neighbourhood of 475 km from a tankful. When I’m gassing up in Ontario I usually spring for the 94 octane mid-grade, which raises my mileage over the 500 mark. When we drove to Malone, N.Y. to buy Powerball lottery tickets, I filled up with U.S. regular. That tank took me 525 km before the low-gas warning light came on. I was so pleased I could almost forget not having won the $1.5B US.
Was Larry right? Is there something fishy about Canadian gas? I’m continuing my experiment and I welcome comment.