Time to end the dependence on Oil

Posted: Feb 13, 2006 12:04 AM

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.” --President Bush 2006 State of the Union

This country has an addiction problem. We’ve spent $10 billion since 2001 trying to kick the habit. But it lingers. It is becoming a threat to our safety. I’m talking about our addiction to oil.

It’s gotten so bad that we are now paying our enemies bills. Each dollar we put into the tank goes to finance religious fantasists in Iran and Syria. And we’re putting a lot of money in the tank.

Last year, 56 percent of the nation's oil came from abroad. A big chunk of that comes from the Middle East. So each time we pay at the pump, we funnel money into the coffers of the people who have resolved to destroy our way of life. Economists predict that by 2025, two-thirds of our oil supply will be imported. More than half of that amount --roughly 6 million barrels of oil per day—will come from the Middle East. As gas prices increase and we become even more dependent upon Middle East oil, they will be able to exert great control over our economy. This is the reality of our dependence on foreign oil.

We’re in a situation where our economic future is becoming increasingly vulnerable to our enemies. This is a reality that has caught the president’s eye. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Bush said, "By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past." He pledged "to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.”

How will he do it? For starters, the president launched a new Advanced Energy Initiative to develop electric/gas hybrids and alternative fuels from wood chips. Will that be enough to reduce OPEC’s growing leverage over our economy? “If all US cars were Priuses today, the nation would save 15 percent more oil than it received from the Persian Gulf in 2002,” wrote Amory Lovins in his recent book "Winning the Oil Endgame." Still, we can’t expect the changeover to be that quick.

Any modernization of our transportation fleet will take time. Certainly more than the 2025 deadline set by the president. So for all the hype hybrids have been receiving of late, they are probably not the solution. Nor are ethanol fuel alternatives, a transportation fuel made from corn or other agricultural products, likely to change the way we power our cars anytime soon. These fuel alternatives are nothing new. For decades people have been talking about distilling energy from grass and corn. It’s a nice idea to subsidize farmers to produce corn we can use, rather than subsidizing them not to grow food.

But President Bush pledged to make the use of such ethanol practical and competitive within 6 years. It will take twice that long to produce enough ethanol to go around. So how do we achieve the goal of reducing our reliance upon foreign oil? The real silver bullet is diesel-powered cars.

Innovations in diesel engines have dramatically reduced oil dependence in Europe. Nearly half of all car sales in Europe last year were diesel powered. If we followed suit, we could reduce our dependence on oil more quickly. The infrastructure is already available. Gas stations would just have to switch over. Nothing in the oil refining process would dramatically change.

This technology is available to us right now. If we embraced it, we could cut oil consumption by 15 to 20 percent right off the bat. A lot of people have questioned the sincerity of the president’s pledge to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. I guess we’ll know soon enough. If the president is indeed sincere, he’ll start talking about diesels.