2004 November 16 Tuesday
Americans Want To Reduce Reliance On Middle Eastern Oil
The Hudson Institute and pollster Frank Luntz report that the American people want greater efforts to be made to create alternatives to Middle Eastern oil.
The key findings of the poll indicate that:
- By an almost 3 to 1 margin, Americans prioritize "reducing our reliance on foreign oil" over "cheaper prices for oil and gas."
- 91% of Americans agreed (74% strongly agree) that "when it comes
to energy, we need an America that relies on its own ingenuity and
innovation - not the Saudi royal family."
- 83% of Americans agree that "reducing our dependence on foreign oil must be a top priority for the next administration."
- 57% of Americans say that the U.S. government should allow
energy companies to explore for oil in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
(ANWR), as well as in many areas off the U.S. coast.
Since September 11th, Americans have become increasingly aware of the link between oil, politics, and terrorism, and they now fear that buying oil from the Middle East means financing terrorism. For this reason, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. In fact, by an almost 3:1 margin Americans believe that "reducing our reliance on foreign oil and gas" was more important to them than "cheaper prices for oil and gas."
The Bush Administration would not have to convince the American public to support a more aggressive energy policy. The public is well ahead of the politicians on seeing the connection between energy and national security.
An energy policy aimed at developing technologies that reduce US and world reliance on Middle Eastern oil would benefit US national security and also make the environment cleaner. Research and development efforts would eventually produce technologies to produce energy at lower costs and technologies for the use of energy in more efficient ways. Both set of technologies would reduce costs and therefore save money in the long run. For more see my posts China Energy Consumption Growth Complicates Anti-Terrorist Efforts and Luft And Korin On China's Rising Demand For Oil And Saudi Arabia.
I feel as though tax breaks and low-interest loans to encourage smart conservation and renewable fuel schemes would be a win-win for any political candidate who propounds them, with all the built-in popular support and the prospect of appearing enlightened and providential, not to mention the substantial savings in overhead costs. But it just never seems to happen ,uch in practice, in the US at least.
In very green-friendly California, the California Air Resources Board recently passed a courageous set of stringent emissions standards for new cars and trucks, and since many states voluntarily follow California's rules rather than the more lenient norms set by the feds, the CARB's policies have the potential to impact the designs emerging from Flint and Detroit. But the CARB (along with other activists proposing e.g. ballot initiatives for similar objectives) has been coming under tremendous pressure from often shady sources to rescind their decisions and new requirements-- all kinds of threats, even some of questionable legality. This despite the fact that many foreign automakers have been able to engineer in these new requirements with little ado.
Every time I hear something like this my cynicism button flashes bright red. A republic or democracy is no guarantee against corrupt or even utterly disastrous government policy, especially if it can be hijacked by narrow, avaricious special interests unscrupulous enough to screw everyone else for a little extra profit in the upcoming quarter. (Iraq invasion, anybody?) And this issue never receives its due attention-- we're like frogs in a pot of gradually warming water on a stove, clueless to the upcoming crisis until it arrives and it's possibly too late to confront it. I wonder sometimes if we're like the old Roman Republic during the period when it descended into venality, fecklessness, and incompetence in the 1st century B.C. Rome was lucky to have an Augustus Caesar who was able at least to make the best out of the mess and install a competent financial system and administration; we may not be so fortunate, and I just hope that the demand for better conservation/renewable fuel development hits enough of a critical mass that politicians pay a fatal price to their political careers for ignoring it. We cannot remain a slave to petroleum like this.
I've said it many times: the way to fix this problem is with much higher taxes on motor fuel. It's good to see the public getting with the program after 20-odd years of denial.
The corrupting influence comes about because there is a disconnect between public policy and net consumer demand. Fuel is still relatively cheap, so demand has shifted toward large, gas-guzzling vehicles; the auto manufacturers can only make money by building what the public will buy, so they have powerful incentives to go around, under or through ill-considered policy measures like CAFE regulations and California's proposal. Making fuel much more expensive will shift consumer demand directly (as it did after the oil price shocks of the 1970's) and eliminate both the incentive and the need for undercutting the policy.
My short essay on the subject of substituting for petroleum should be appearing this week, either at the site at which I was invited to guest-blog (to be announced) or The Ergosphere.
Having more fuel-efficient and less oil-dependent transportation is desirable in and of itself, but the oil-terrorism nexus doesn't make sense to me. The heyday of oil wealth in the mid-east was a couple decades ago, and terrorism has increased since then. Do we think that by impoverishing the mid-east we'll eliminate terrorism? Do we think the US will abandon Israel once oil demand dries up? But in fact oil demand won't dry up, even if US demand decreases. The mideast still has the best oil and most advanced extraction, so their oil will always sell until the very last drop is consumed, which won't be for a very long time. Whether or not actual petroleum molecules that once existed beneath Arabian ground enters the US is not really relevant to the actions of terrorists.
Au contraire, ziel - petroleum will be dumped like a hot potato when the alternatives cost less. This tipping point will drive the economies of scale away from oil and make the change permanent.
Have you seen the Marlon Brando movie "The Formula?" In this movie, it is revealed after WW II, that
the Nazis had discovered a method for making cheap gasoline and diesel fuel from coal, but the oil
companies use every dirty trick in the book, including bribery, extortion and murder, to suppress that
So I worry that before alternatives get developed, the oil companies will do something to subvert any such
The most interesting approach I have read about to end oil dependence is the widespread use of "plug-in hybrid" vehicles. Many are familiar with hybrid vehicles like the popular Toyota Prius that unfortunately does not plug in and has a small battery. A plug-in hybrid has a battery pack that allows a range up to 40 or 60 miles before a recharge is needed. The vehicle can plug directly into the traditional electric grid. Forty miles is more than the commute of an average American and for some people the car will usually function as an all electric vehicle. Electricity can be generated using many different sources such as coal, natural gas, wind, solar, etc. Oil imports can be stopped when enough plug-ins are on the road. Fossil fuels can be phased out over time (for those concerned about CO2).
The website "Institute for the Analysis of Global Security" IAGS discusses the strategy. The proponents are not the usual "greens" and "progressives". Instead, they are from intelligence and national security groups. Here is there open letter that reads like a cri de coeur. Their ideal vehicle would be "flexible fuel" as well as "plug-in hybrid". Flexible fuel vehicles are designed to burn alcohol, gasoline, or any mixture of the two. Alcohol can be produced domestically.
Protoype plug-in hybrid vehicles have been built by UC Davis professor Andy Frank. His team uses "newer more powerful and cheaper Phase III NiMH batteries built to custom specifications for the UC Davis team by Ovonics." An article about this appears at EV World entitled Andy Frank's Plugged-In Vision.
Here are some alternative liquid fuel web sites:
Diesel Fuel From Coal:
And here is a web site for the zinc-air fuel cells that are air-breathing batteries: This web
page mentions a fully operational electric bus that is competitive with diesel engines:
Nuclear energy will return with a vengeance: Some of the newer designs, include the Integral Fast Reactor,
which is 100 % more uranium fuel efficient, and it burns all the long term nuclear waste as its own fuel,
making the Yucca Mountain storage unnecessary. Too good to be true? Not this time. This can be used to charge
all the electric cars in the world, or to make diesel fuel by heating garbage.
Ziel, As I have argued on in a number of previous posts: We must develop energy technologies that will be cheaper than oil once the technological breakthroughs are made. Once the replacements are cheaper the whole world will shift to those technologies in order to save money.
"Geologists joke that drawing a barrel of oil from the Saudi desert is as easy as poking a straw in the ground. The Saudis pump oil at a cost to them of $2 to $3 a barrel and comfortably make money even if global futures prices crash to $10 a barrel." This quote comes from a USA Today article here. If the price of oil collapses due to an alternative energy breakthrough then high-price oil producers would be knocked out of the market, but Saudi Arabia would probably be one the last producers standing. A powerful series of advances would be required to undersell energy from Saudi Arabia. Of course, agreements to limit carbon dioxide emissions would shrink the pool of buyers and put further downward pressure on the price of oil.
IS: No, I have not seen "The Formula". I do not consider Hollywood productions to be worthwhile for insights into engineering or business.
German production of synthetic oil from coal seems to have been done by three methods: distillation of benzol from coal tar, low-temperature retorting of lignite, and the Fischer-Tropsch process of hydrogenation. I doubt very much that any of these are capable of producing gasoline at prices we'd find reasonable.
Your link mentions that the synthesis would be done from desulfurized syngas (a mixture of H2 and CO) rather than from heavier fractions. If we are going to go to syngas we should convert it to methanol and avoid energy-consumptive conversions to heavier hydrocarbons.
Garson, I'm glad to see more people picking up on plug-in hybrids!
Garson, Even though Saudi Arabia is a low-cost producer they'd still be hurt by a decline in oil prices to, say, $7 per barrel. They couldn't afford to finance the spread of Wahhabism if they were getting a small fraction of what they are currently earning from oil.
Yes, Saudi per capita GDP has declined to about a quarter of its peak and that decline is going to continue as the Saudi population grows unless oil prices remain high or go higher still. But we could reverse the oil price increase with replacement technologies.
Also, remove the strategic value of the Middle East as an oil producing region and it would be easier to just stay out of the place. We never would have angered Osama Bin Laden if Kuwait hadn't had valuable resources to fight over.
Randall, I think that we agree on many points. A reduction in the price of oil would decrease the money flowing into Saudi Arabia. It would also diminish the strategic importance of oil reserves. We also agree on the paramount importance of technological advancements in energy technology. My posting was only intended to illustrate the resilience of the profit structure for Saudi Arabian oil and concomitant difficulties.
I did not mention the Hollywood movie "The Formula" as a close approximation of what is
going on in viable alternative fuel research, but I meant to mention that the movie is
about the malevolent behavior of oil companies: they are ready, willing, and able to do
whatever it takes to subvert and sabotage any attempt to commercialize anything that
interferes with their gains.
In any case, in the links I have mentioned, both the coal-based and vegetable oil based diesel
fuels are close to becoming competitive with petroleum. This seems to be a giant step for
You are saying that $7 per barrel would hurt Saudi Arabia. Some articles claim that even
a price below $20 per barrek would be bad enough for Saudi Arabia to have an Islamic revolution
that will overthrow the Saudi Royal Family, because oil is their only income, and the money that is
not being taken by the Royal Family, is being used to appease the masses so that they do not overthrow
the current monarcy. If the price of oil goes below $20 and stays there for a long time, then there
won't be enough money to bribe the special interest groups in Saudi Arabia and there will be
a revolution. In this sense, the US government has an interest in keeping the price of oil high
so that there is no revolution in Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, if Al Qaeda rules Saudi Arabia, then this will be
be the end to squandering the oil revenue on luxury items, but then this freed money will be used to
finance an arms race the world has not seen yet.
France has done a lot to further nuclear power. They have even made a series of meltdown experiments to increase the knowledge about severe accidents.
"The main objective was to reduce the uncertainties on the evaluation of the amount and nature of radioactive products which could be released into the environment, should a core meltdown accident occur in a Light Water Reactor Plant"
For those interested in the Phebus-FP program:
The experiments were of course vigorously impeded by the "greens".
France has approximately 80 % of its electricity derived from nuclear power. After the oil
shock of 1973, France decided to do something about its dependence on foreign energy.
The French scientists were in a hurry to start the nuclear project, and so they immediately
adopted the Westinghouse design instead of developing their own technology.
The newer pressurized water reactors are even more efficient than the older designs, and they
burn most of the long term nuclear waste, making waste disposal much more manageable, although these
are not as efficient as what the Integral Fast Reactor would be if it were made commercial one day.
But the next step is to find a way to make vehicles run with the energy derived from nuclear or other
sources. It's possible to use the heat of nuclear reactors to make liquid fuels like diesel fuel,
or to charge zinc-air fuel cells.
We are running out of time to solve this worldwide energy dependence problem.
Note that none of the poll questions are about nuclear power. I will believe American peoples' commitment to energy independence when the public opposition to nuclear power goes away. Until then, I think its all hot air.
The public opposition to nuclear power is declining steadily. There was an article a while ago,
where it was mentioned that Americans are more open minded about nuclear power. Some 30 years
ago there was a national hysteria that equated nuclear power with fascism etc, anyone who claimed
to be leftist or even moderate, automatically had to conform by blindly opposing nuclear power, which
was associated with big money, right wing, etc. This was one instance the Oil Companies benefited
from the left.
Richard Spencer's "Tension rises as China scours the globe for energy" is posted here.
"Demand in China fuels oil price" is posted here.
Engineer-Poet, maybe there will be higher fuel taxes in the future to help pay for Medicare and Social Security!
"Chinese Move to Eclipse U.S. Appeal in Southeast Asia" is posted here.
If the "American people want greater efforts to be made to create alternatives to Middle Eastern oil," then why did they just re-elect a couple of oil and gas men?
Yeah, I think that China is the future in the long run. They have a relatively homogeneous population of relatively high-IQ people who do not have the sexual sociobiological BS that other cultures have (especially Latin America).
However, China has a major banking crisis to pass through before it realizes its future.
"..The key point is not "when the oil will all be gone" but rather when demand begins to outstrip supply and production / extraction peaks globally. There probably will be oil extraction for several more decades, although the current perceived abundance (one can buy as much oil as one can afford) is likely to last only a few more years...
...Whatever the exact year, the days of wasteful overconsumption are limited - and civilization's future depends on our using some of the remaining oil as a "bridge" toward a sustainable society that re-emphasizes local production (especially of food). Solar panels, windmills, many energy efficiency technologies, and many other components for a different paradigm will require some energy input during this transition...
...You see, there is a lot more at stake here than just a continuation of the Cold War or U.S. imperialistic greed. There is enough energy remaining in the world right now for us -- the people -- to take control and ease ourselves into a democratic, egalitarian, stable-state society. Or there is enough energy for the elite to build a feudalistic, fascist, police state with themselves at the top. This is the choice facing us right now, and this is what is truly at stake.."