News Stories

Can We Ever Stop Using Oil?

One way to avoid Middle Eastern conflict and pricevulnerability would be to wean ourselves from oil. But whatelse could we use?Coal ispolluting and would increase global warming. The mainproblem is our cars?no alternative fuel has been discoveredyet that works in them and companies aren't trying todevelop one because it would be taxed higher than foreignoil imports!

Lee Dye writes in abcnews.com that about half the cost ofevery gallon of synthetic oil produced in this country goesto federal and local taxes. Chemical engineer Galen Suppessays, "But there's no U.S. taxes on foreign oil. You'retaxing domestic production, but you're not taxing imports."

But Suppes doesn't think that giving researchers governmentfunding to find alternate fuels will work, because thisoften leads to bad technology. "You don't pick outtechnologies and give them incentives," he says. "What youdo is you make it a fair playing field."

In an election year, we'll again hear speeches about usingethanol, a fuel made from corn. However, It takes elevenacres of corn to fuel one automobile with ethanol for 10,000miles, or about a year's driving. Agricultural researcherDavid Pimentel says that if we decided to power all of ourautomobiles with ethanol, we would need to cover 97% of ourland with corn. Ethanol is economically viable only becausethe federal government subsidizes its production?beforeother government agencies tax it.

If ethanol was a good idea, the oil companies would bedeveloping it. Suppes says, "When an oil company has 10years of reserves in the ground, it doesn't make any senseat all for them to spend billions of dollars today toproduce [synthetic] oil they don't need, so they would bethe last ones to invest in this."

Hydrogen fuel isn't practical because it's so difficult tocontain. Driving a car with a flammable fuel escaping intothe atmosphere isn't a viable solution. There has beenresearch on producing fuel from garbage, but it isn'tpractical yet (would we use our cars as compost containers?)Although they don't pollute the air with CO2, electricalcars were a bust because they need recharging too often.

Dye quotes Suppes as saying, "I have a feeling the countryis going to continue to pay a very high price before wefinally figure it out. I just hope the price isn't extremelyhigh." Since we're already fighting a war in Iraq over oil,the priceis pretty high already.

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