Conservation Key to Achieving Energy Independence

Article excerpt

Increased domestic oil production, driven in part by Oklahoma energy companies, has helped reduce imports of foreign oil to the United States. Increased conservation is also required to wean the nation off of foreign petroleum sources. During World War II, conservation was an important message to winning the fight against the Axis powers. Consider these slogans: "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler. Join a car-sharing club TODAY!" "Food is a weapon; don't waste it!"

To be sure, the problems with scarce, polluting or imported resources are different. The coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable sources used to make electricity is homegrown. When it comes to petroleum, the United States still imports about half of its petroleum products, and two-thirds of that is used for transportation fuels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.

Fuel sipping, fuel switching

Burning fossil fuels to power vehicles creates pollution that is bad for human health. This reliance on petroleum can also be bad for the economy. Crude oil is a volatile commodity that is subject to geopolitical turmoil across the globe. Its high price can squeeze the pocketbooks of many. Improving the health of Americans and the stability of the U.S. economy are just two reasons to rethink how we power our cars and trucks.

However, the amount of gasoline we use is decreasing, said James Turnure, director of the office of energy consumption and efficiency analysis at the EIA. In January, when the agency released its monthly short-term energy outlook, it found a sharp decrease in gasoline usage. This analysis can't determine exactly why, but the downturn in the economy, increased fuel efficiency and driving behavior are some likely reasons, Turnure said. Another report to be released at the end of May should help explain more of these reasons, he said.

In addition, Turnure said the agency showed a very clear decline in imported petroleum. According to the report, in 2005 the U.S. was importing 60 percent of its petroleum; in 2010; that figure dropped to 49 percent. By 2035, the EIA expects the U.S. to import only 36 percent. Improved efficiency and the increase in nonpetroleum liquids can help further the decline. One strategy adopted is to use American-made fuel.

"To heck with OPEC," Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake Energy CEO, told an audience Tuesday at an energy conference sponsored by Oklahoma State University.

As one of the nation's largest drillers of natural gas in the Lower 48, Chesapeake is working to drive up demand for its product as a vehicle fuel. In the next 10 years, the company will invest $1 billion to develop various forms of natural gas for heavy- and light- duty vehicles.

The company has already begun to convert its own fleet, and is encouraging its suppliers and competitors to do the same.

"We think we can move the U.S. from being the largest importer of natural gas to the largest exporter," McClendon told the audience of several hundred.

Of course, reducing petroleum use for vehicles would dramatically decrease the need for imports, but having the right infrastructure to support alternative fuels can take a while to develop. The state has 10 incentives to promote alternative-fueled vehicles. One is a 50-percent, one-time tax credit for purchasing a vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, propane or electricity.

While there is only one publicly available electric car charging station in the state (at the Whole Foods Market in Oklahoma City), there are 56 propane stations, 49 compressed natural gas stations, 14 high-blend ethanol stations, and one biodiesel station. The state also has a no-interest loan program for government fleets converting to alternative-fueled vehicles or adding infrastructure for fueling those vehicles. The Energy Department does not track the number of alternative-fueled vehicles on a state level, but local experts estimate there are several thousand in Oklahoma. …

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