American economy is very fragile due to our addiction to foreign oil - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

American economy is very fragile due to our addiction to foreign oil

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Local resident David Clement is an Arizona volunteer leader for the Pickens Plan. For more information, visit www.pickensplan.com.

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Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 4:00 pm

News anchors and politicians are running out of new ways to say that the American economy is very, very fragile. Among the most under reported reasons is our continuing - and growing - addiction to foreign oil.

To partially deal with our need to import foreign oil, the U.S. Congress is currently considering H.R. 1380 - the NAT GAS Act - which will provide targeted and limited tax incentives for companies to replace their vehicles burning imported gasoline or diesel with vehicles running on domestic natural gas.

Building new facilities to sell, maintain and fuel the massive numbers of 18-wheelers crossing our state can make a major improvement in Arizona's more than 9 percent unemployment.

The federal government has released the oil import numbers for July and they are staggering. We imported 359 million barrels of oil - over 11.5 million barrels a day, seven days a week. It means we sent more than $1.4 billion a day - seven days a week - out of the country to places like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Nigeria.

Seventy percent of the oil we import is used as transportation fuel. It is refined into gasoline to power our national fleet of 250 million cars and light trucks, or diesel to drive the 8 million heavy duty trucks on our streets and Interstates.

If we had no other choice, then we would simply have to bow to OPEC and the other oil exporting nations and pay whatever price they demand. The "new normal" for oil has become between $85 and $115 per barrel. This is a far cry from the "old normal," which was about $35 per barrel.

But, we do have another choice: Natural gas. Current estimates of natural gas reserves in the United States are that we have enough natural gas to last more than 100 years. We have more energy stored in that natural gas than the Saudi's have in all of their oil.

What's stopping us from using natural gas instead of imported oil as our principal transportation fuel? We don't make many natural gas vehicles (NGVs) here. There are about 13 million NGVs on the worlds roadways. Only about 120,000 of them are here in the United States.

There is a chicken-and-egg question. Without increased demand for natural gas vehicles manufacturers don't want to build them and gasoline stations don't want to add a natural gas islands to fuel them. Without NGVs in dealers' showrooms and a generous supply of fueling stations, consumers don't want to buy them.

That's why there has been a highly targeted push to focus, not on passenger cars and pick-ups, but on the heavy-duty trucks and fleet vehicles that can make a real difference in the amount of oil we have to import from OPEC nations and can make that difference very quickly. Heavy trucks like 18-wheelers can only run on two fuels: Diesel and natural gas. Batteries won't push an 18-wheeler. Neither will ethanol.

Natural gas is cheaper on a gallon-equivalent basis than diesel. It is cleaner than diesel (or, for that matter, gasoline). And every dollar we spend on a domestic fuel is a dollar that recirculates through the American economy, not the economies of Abu Dhabi or Kuwait.

Over-the-road trucks tend to run the same routes on a regular schedule. Drivers stop at the same truck stops week in and week out to eat, rest and refuel. It is a relatively simple matter to space out natural gas refueling islands in existing truck stops along interstate highways so that long-distance truckers would never be at risk of running out of fuel.

Other types of vehicles like refuse and recycling trucks, express delivery vans, utility trucks, taxis and municipal buses all go home to the "barn" each night where they are refueled from a central location.

The NAT GAS Act will help jump start the NGV industry in the United States. It will create permanent, well-paying jobs from the well-head to the vehicle showroom. It will help clean our environment because natural gas produces up to 30 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than either gasoline or diesel. And, it will keep billions of dollars from flowing overseas to governments which are unfriendly to the United States, are in unstable regions, or both.

The NAT GAS Act will allow us to cut our reliance on OPEC oil in half in five to seven years. That should be reason enough for the House and Senate to pass it as soon as they return this fall.

• Local resident David Clement is an Arizona volunteer leader for the Pickens Plan. For more information, visit www.pickensplan.com.

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