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Let's start to think outside the tank

May 31, 2008|By DONALD CURRIER

By the time you read this, the price of regular gasoline will be close to or even above $4 per gallon all over the country. And there is no end in sight. Is the administration or any of your elected representatives in either party doing anything about bringing down the price? Or are they simply posturing, blaming OPEC, the oil companies and everyone else they can think of, when it really is their lack of political courage that is at fault?

Let me restate the issues that I've been arguing for more than two years. The United States will need vast quantities of hydrocarbon fuels for the foreseeable future to power our civilian on-road vehicles, our civilian air fleet, and our military vehicles - land, sea and air. This is not just a matter of national convenience. It is a matter of national security!

Energy independence is a goal we must pursue to free us from the clutches of those who now use oil to injure our economy. To get there, we need a three-pronged attack. The first is conservation of energy everywhere we use it. The second is development and exploitation of all possible clean energy sources. The third is a synthetic energy program to produce the hydrocarbon fuels that we must have to keep our collective "wheels" rolling.

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Conservation of energy uses is a no-brainer, but it will require both individual efforts and maybe some government pressure such as a national (lower) speed limit.

The development of clean energy sources will require significant financial incentives to private industry. Equally important, we must eliminate by federal laws the many legal limitations created by local and state NIMBY (not in my back yard). It is madness to let each state and locality pass laws to protect its own environment at the expense of all of the rest of us when it comes to energy development and use. Think about what's happening to new proposals for wind farms, transmission lines, nuclear plants, off-shore drilling and a host of others.

Conservation and improving clean energy sources are not enough to get us to energy independence. The only real alternative to drilling more holes to produce hydrocarbon fuels we absolutely must have to survive and to prosper is to use coal and natural gas to produce synthetic liquid fuels. We have virtually unlimited supplies of these resources within our borders. Synfuels can guarantee us energy independence forever. They can free us from the clutches of OPEC and from any other oil producers, friend or foe alike.

Why not do it? Because our national leaders are more concerned about the "green" vote than about what high gas prices are doing to the least fortunate of us. The environmentalists fight this program because it produces carbon dioxide in the process. But instead of encouraging the development of technologies that can either reuse, chemically alter, or dispose of the carbon dioxide, they want to stop the process cold! Shades of the Luddites!

What I propose is that we establish synthetic fuel production as a sort of regulated monopoly similar to the way we used to treat electric energy production and distribution. Basically, that was to encourage companies to provide nationwide services on a cost plus fee basis. Companies were allowed to operate in concert and to cover total costs and then receive a fixed profit above those costs. The cost figures were government audited and the profit level set by law.

Who could or should manage such a massive undertaking? My solution would be to offer the project to a consortium of our oil companies. To those who think I'm crazy, consider the following points. First, if we continue to restrict the oil companies from drilling in the most promising places, what is their future in the United States?

Secondly, the end products produced by the well established Fischer Tropsch Synthesis are similar in composition and behavior to products produced from petroleum.

Thirdly, the national infrastructure is already well established all over the country to handle synfuels. The ability to phase in and blend the synthetic product with naturally produced petroleum in a seamless transition is assured.

What can we do? The first thing all of us can do is to threaten our leaders in the administration and in Congress with the one thing they fear most - defeat at the ballot box! Contact them and tell them so. Send them this article. Ask them why we shouldn't use the oil companies' proven abilities to do big things, but do it in a profit-controlled environment.

It is one way to get this program going as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Donald Currier is a Smithsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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