Geology And Geophysics

Oil Alternatives

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I am baffled by the fact that it has been almost a month since the (latest) Gulf oil disaster, and we have yet to make any significant progress toward stemming the leak.  Not only that, but scientists have now confirmed that the leak is significantly larger than previously believed. 

“Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.” -

Obviously, this is a significant setback, and there has been public outcry for a reasonable, economic and efficient alternative to oil.  One comment I saw posted on Facebook, in a response to such a post, was that virtually everything we have - cars, computers, television, electricity, DVDs, cell phones, et cetera - is a result of the consumption of oil, and that we can’t find an alternative to oil because we are not ready to give all of those things up. 

Obviously, most Americans, for all their anti-oil propaganda, don’t want to give up all the conveniences of modern life to make that dream come true.  But, perhaps the battle isn’t so all-or-nothing as the naysayers would have us think.  The United States uses a staggering amount of oil - in 2007, it was number one in worldwide oil consumption, at 20.7 billion barrels per day.  This accounts for almost one-fourth of the world’s total oil consumption, which is around 85 billion barrels per day.  ( Consumption data for 2007)

But why do we need all that oil?  China, Great Britain, and other first-world countries have all of the modern conveniences the United States has - cars, cell phones, computers and the like - but utilize only a fraction of the United States’ per capita daily consumption.  There are so many things that can be done to lessen the amount of oil (and other irreplacable natural resources) consumed every day.  Virtually everything comes in a “green”, eco-friendly version now - everything from biodegradable trash bags, to fabric softener sheets made from recycled, biodegradable material, to soap-free soap.  Most of these products cost the same, or only a little more, than their non-planet friendly predecessors, and are available at mass merchandisers, not just specialty stores.  The prevalence and economy of products like these leaves us with little excuse to purchase the ones that we know are harmful.  Hybrid cars are becoming more popular, and though those who drive them are often considered elitist snobs, they get the last laugh when they (eventually) pull up to the pump.  Solar panels are becoming a viable alternative to grid electricity, even in areas like New England, because of the capacity some systems have to store electricity.  Not only can some of the energy harnessed be conserved for later (such as during the winter months, when there isn’t as much sunlight, and it’s not as strong), but many towns are making deals with those who have solar panels, siphoning off some of their excess energy in exchange for payment.  Imagine being able to send a bill to National Grid, and not the other way around.  Most people don’t even realize that coal and petroleum are utilized in the production of electricity; they think of it as a completely separate resource.  Others don’t see failing to recycle plastics as a waste of crude oil, but that is, in fact, the end result.  (Not to mention that plastics virtually never decompose, and take up a significant amount of surface area and volume in our landfills.)

It’s amazing how, when the price of gasoline and oil shot up, people began carpooling and turning their home thermostats down two degrees, thinking it a small sacrifice to save some money.  That is apparently the only framework that most Americans understand; put a price tag on something, and suddenly wastefulness is curtailed in the name of savings.  Only the enlightened individuals who are referred to as “tree-huggers” or “eco-nuts” seem to understand that there are some things that don’t have a price tag.  However, when the tide is turned - when we come to a point where we are forced to curb our consumption to preserve our way of life - the price of a gallon of gasoline will increase a hell of a lot more, and those who have been conserving all along will not feel the pinch so keenly as those who consume wantonly and unmindful of the consequences.

More about this author: Dorienne Willis

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