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Living Below Your Means
Duck's Oil Rant

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By DuckyDuck
April 26, 2006

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I could have posted this just about everywhere else, PA, Peak Oil Party, Renewable Energy, XOM, and so on. But I thought it would be good here as the current situation affects us in trying to LBYM.)

I'm disgusted. I'm tired of the whining and outrage about oil. I'm tired of the whining and outrage over gasoline prices. I'm mostly ranting and raving because we (and I mean EVERYBODY "we") have basically blown the last 32 years and have done nothing substantial to change how we produce and use energy in this country.

Actually, I blame everybody. I blame the politicians. Not just Dubya/Dick, but Clinton/Gore, Bush-I, Ronnie and so on.

I blame big business. From oil companies that have failed to invest and diverge into "energy companies" until recently, to frauds and cheats (Enron), to makers of consumer products that depend heavily on wasteful energy use (automakers).

I blame us, the consumers. I ain't perfect and I ain't a saint, either, even in this, but we haven't done our part to demand more efficiency and/or alternative products that currently use oil.

IMO, there hasn't been ANY long-range activity or desire or will to get away from oil and gasoline (and similar petroleum products). We consume the most and pay about the least for gas.

What's is really bugging this duck?

Here:

President Nixon, as part of his ill-fated price control program, had slapped controls on oil in March 1973. The U.S., which had been self-sufficient in energy as recently as 1950, was now importing some 35% of its energy needs. U.S. petroleum reserves were nearly gone.

I'm mostly interested in the "35% of its energy needs". (Note: I know it doesn't say "oil needs", but I think the proportion was nearly the same.) This was back in 1973.

More recently, with late-2005/early-2006 data, we are now importing 66.23% of our crude oil. (I took some of the tables and dumped them into Excel.) We are producing 33.77% of our own oil needs.

What the...?

In 32 years, we just did a flip-flop (actually maybe in fewer years), from being a net producer to becoming a net importer.

We just dug ourselves a bigger hole. Forget about pollution and global warming for now, although they complicate the picture. It's just that we went backwards in energy progress. I think we've been at the point where we can't even hope for energy independence, we just got to hope we can maintain our country and way of life, no matter where the oil comes from.

There was a big push in the 1970's to work on "the energy crisis". Although somewhat junky at first, automakers put up with legislation to improve fuel economy and they did. Sure, there were quite a few problematic "new" implementations of more efficient cars (GM diesels, Wankels, turbos, and so on). Some worked, some didn't, some were disasters.

But what the heck, gas prices stabilized, and have even dropped to the point where there some "gluts" of oil. I even recall the prices dropping in the late 90's to less than a buck for gas. So everybody was happy, the economy was hopping, and everybody and his brother-in-law bought SUV's and whatnot. (Hey, even I'm guilty of it...)

So, the economy is so-so, China and India are consuming more, some of these oil-exporting nations are NOT our friends, and we're wetting our pants because we can't afford to fill up our Hummers on $3/gallon gas.

WAH.

We've had several opportunities to adjust our government policy, our operation of business, and our personal ways of thinking and planning on how to live or improve our standard of living via alternate resources and not be susceptible to forces that control our imported energy.

Do I advocate we all live in small houses with photovoltaic cells on the roof and sitting in a dim room illuminated with a 10-watt light bulb and a thermostat setting of 55 degrees in mid-winter? No. Do I advocate we all drive around in tiny little Chevy Aveo's? No.

I just advocate we get a little smarter and try to get what we want, but a better means, and via "continuing improvement".

Instead, right now, we have SUV's that can do 0-60 MPH in less than six seconds. Fuel economy be danged! We can carry the kids, Grandma, and Fido in one vehicle and still blow the doors off a Honda! Well, this wasn't meant to be an anti-SUV rant, but still, we have production cars that can do over 200 MPH, do quarter-miles in times that were unheard of, and pass everything on the road but the gas station. We have little four-door sedans with AWD and 300 horsepower that could now easily blow away Porsches and Ferrari's of the 1980's.

With all that engineering capability over the years, why haven't we done any real improvement in fuel economy?

Why do we still have gazillions of consumer products either made from or contained in things made of oil? If we run out of oil, or just even run short of oil, we also cannot make or consume several pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, packages, plumbing, or just even everything that's packaged with plastic. We have more sand than we know what do to with, why can't we make flexible glass?

Wah.

GM is still hoping to sell big SUV's that get a whole 2 MPG better than before. Oh joy! Ford has canned the Excursion, but in a swift marketing move, they're introducing the Expedition EL (a lengthened and heavier Expedition). DCX keeps up putting big Hemi engines in everything.

Well, I keep hearing "that's what the market wants". But I see it as a two-way street. Some want big, gas-sucking vehicles, but some want fuel-efficient roller skates as well. But the Big 2.5 are pandering to the more profitable extreme.

Several folks who believe in "free markets" just say let the market dictate what we, the consumer, get and can afford. Unfortunately, we're all looking short-term. Folks panicked with hurricane Katrina forced gas prices up last fall, then the panic subsided. Half a year later, we're panicked again.

Is it all doom and gloom? Maybe, maybe not. Dubya is pushing hydrogen. Well, I'm okay with that, but it's not the cure-all. There's fuel-cell development, there's improvements on photo-voltaics. There's increased production of bio-fuels for transportation and heating. There's some work on improving coal and how it can be used more cleanly.

But there will be some bumps in the road along the way. As much as I am an eco-weenie, I see the drilling of ANWR as inevitable. I don't like it, but I think we may be forced economically and strategically into getting the oil from there and in several other unfortunately ecologically sensitive areas. We, the consumer, are demanding the oil. We may need it just for keeping up the economy or even for survival. The same goes for nuclear energy and coal. Unless we improve our consumer products to use less energy, that energy is going to have to come from somewhere. Yeah, it may force photovoltaics and windpower to be more economically feasible, but also it may be needed as well, just to continue our way of life.

So, while I don't care for wide-open areas of Wyoming dotted with natural gas wells, or mountaintops being flattened in West Virginia, they, and other unpopular things might be needed to continue living like we have been.


So nowadays, with everyone whining about $3 gas, I just shrug my shoulders and say, "I told you so". I worked as a gas station attendant WAYYYYY back in 1979 after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and gas prices jumped then. People whined about $.80 a gallon gas. An external event caused us great pain and I figured we didn't make much headway from 1973. We did, but not enough to prevent a price spike.

So "we" as in everybody, ought to learn from some of both the successes and mistakes over the last 32 years and figure out how we can continue to live and prosper and be self-sufficient with our energy resources.


Thanks for letting me rant.


Duck


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