Fossil Fuels: The Way of the Future

President Bush has reluctantly urged Americans to reduced gasoline consumption, which was a complete, and unexpected reversal of position for the Bush administration, especially considering its track record of refusing to compromise or admit fault on any piece of legislation or policy. Previously the Whitehouse dismissed calls for fuel efficiency standards. In 2001 press secretary Ari Fleisher stated their position when asked if Americans need to correct their lifestyles in regards to energy consumption. “That’s a big ‘no.’ The President believes that it’s an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life.” This major shift, even if only symbolic, shows just how tenuous the oil situation has become. Production and demand were neck and neck even before hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and although prices are starting to come down, it will not take much to cause another major shock. A growing number of people are concerned that the production peak described in the Peak Oil theory may have happened. Peak Oil essentially describes the situation in which oil production will peak, and from then on decline, driving prices through the roof. The theory has some very substantial scientific backing and has caused concern among economists about the future of the energy market, and its effect on virtually all aspects of the economy. Peak or no peak it is clear that continuing to rely on oil is a mistake, and the higher oil prices go, the better the alternatives look. Many see renewable energy and energy conservation as the solution. Unfortunately it is not likely that renewable schemes alone would allow us to maintain our standard of living anywhere near today’s levels. Renewables are part of the solution, but they won’t be able to do it all– don’t panic though, Montana governor, Mark Schweitzer might have the answer. The United States has approximately 24% of the world’s coal reserves, much of which is in Montana. Coal is widely seen as an obsolete technology, as dirty and a risk to public health. Pittsburgh of the 1950s comes to mind, with giant smoke stacks spewing toxic fumes into the air. However, the current proposal is not to burn coal for electricity or industry, rather that we take advantage of proven technology and convert coal into gasoline and diesel. The technology is called the Fischer-Tropsch method, and has existed for about eighty years, and currently produces 200,000 barrels of synthetic gasoline and diesel every day in South Africa. It was also used by the Germans during WWII to make diesel when supplies ran short. Democrat Brian Schweitzer, the governor of Montana, says it could be adapted in the United States to produce cleaner and cheaper gasoline, while creating jobs and reducing foreign dependence. In fact, according to Governor Schweitzer’s website there is enough coal in Montana alone to, “power every American car for decades;” he also predicts if large scale production were implemented that synthetic gasoline could be produced for around $1 a gallon. Ultimately the long term goal is to develop a powerful and renewable source of energy to produce the incredible amounts of electricity and hydrogen the economy of the future will demand. Whether that energy source turns out to be fission, fusion, renewable or some combination is unclear. Until that day though, we should be doing everything practical to reduce oil consumption, and should take advantage of the resources within our own country.