The difference is that the bulk of the costs in Europe are taxes which then go to mass transit. Things are a lot more spread out in the US, making mass transit ineffective in all but the bigger cities, and biking/walking often infeasible. As such, gas prices have a much greater impact here--cheap travel is a necessity.
There is indeed a difference in the population density between North America and Europe. But I don't think, that it has to be ineffective because of that. And you might not be able to use the same concepts as in Europe. While I believe that high-speed mid-range intercity trains would work beautifully in NA (less stops in between, train can go high-speed all the way, you can really get some work done on your way; or do, whatever you want), some things may have to be invented or changed. A good example is car-pool lanes. They merge the positive effects of mass transit with the "affinity" of people to cars.
Hehe, during my last (bnl) visit to NA the same "affinity" resulted to the following dialogue between a clerk and me:
Me: "Excuse me, do you know where I can find the store Somebuy?"
Clerk: "Oh, it's right across the street. It's a 30 sec drive!"
It was a 10 sec walk.
Also, American oil companies make peanuts for profit margins, perhaps one could try reading up first? A few hundred billion is peanuts if you invested a few hundred trillion to get it. If you want to call an industry out for obscene profit margins, and it's ludicrous to blame someone for being willingly paid by other people, go after the financial sector that regularly sees 30% profit margins from companies like Citibank.
Hmm, if stock charts say anything about the profitability of a company, you might get surprised when looking up e.g. the 5 year chart of Exxon. So I would'nt call that peanuts.
But I agree that the banking sector sees (or better: saw?) obscene profits.
Militant environmentalists may be in for a rude awakening in the short term if gas goes too high to quick. The same 'ol song-and-dance of "the oil companies are evil" won't fly when Joe-schmo realizes there is a ton of oil out there but environmental lobbyists have made it off limits. It's soooo easy to hate the oil companies for their profits but no one ever talsk about how much they have to invest in exploration, technologies that do as little damage to the environment as possible, and a myriad of other things that cost a crap-load of money.
While I don't support militant environmentalists I would rather bet that they are not the reason for oil prices being this high right now, as you suggest with you "off limits" argument. Yeah, "it's soooo easy to hate the" environmentalists for the high oil prices.