Energy & Environment

Alternative Fuels are not an Alternative

I frequently travel through West Texas, eastern New Mexico, and the Oklahoma Panhandle and almost every time I am on an interstate in one of these three areas, I pass a caravan of tractor trailer rigs carrying blades for wind turbines. Wind turbines, which are popping up across the windswept southern plains or the elevated areas of eastern New Mexico, are roughly one hundred feet tall with three blades, each of which are approximately fifty feet long.  Moreover, the construction of more of these “environmentally friendly” beasts is constantly pushed by those who believe one above ground oil rig would ruin their view of pristine nature.

In much of these same areas, particularly the Oklahoma Panhandle and West Texas, corn has emerged as a far more prominent crop than it was a decade ago because it is another form of alternative energy: ethanol. The chief purpose of ethanol, not unlike wind energy, is to save the planet by being a cleaner burning fuel for the internal combustion engines in our vehicles. But there is a catch. Just as the individual parts of the wind turbines have to be transported by vehicles that are dependent upon petroleum-derived fuels that cause pollution, it takes 1.3 gallons of gasoline to produce one gallon of ethanol.

Moreover, that one gallon of ethanol that is produced through the burning of 1.3 gallons of gasoline contains one third less energy than a gallon of gasoline, according to Iain Murray, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This means that by the time you burn 1.3 gallons of ethanol, which is what it takes to equal the energy of a gallon of gasoline, you have actually already burned 1.73 gallons of gasoline simply to produce the cleaner burning 1.3 gallons of ethanol that “replaced” it.

In additional to ethanol’s dependence on gasoline for its production, such a fuel derived from corn threatens to deplete one thing which we all agree is precious: water. Even among people who categorically reject the insinuation that global warming is permanent or manmade, it is hard to find someone who fails to recognize the fact that water is vital to our survival; and because water is so vital, ethanol is hard to accept as a practical a fuel.
According to David Olive of the Toronto Star, ethanol requires us to pour 10,000 liters of water on a field of corn in order to receive 5 liters of fuel in return. Yet, many of the very people on the Left who were screaming about the sky falling a decade ago because of decreasing water supplies are now the ones advocating this corn-based alternative to petroleum fuels; which, as we have seen, is not so much an alternative as an exercise in Leftist orthodoxy.

Wind and corn-based alternative fuels destroy what their supporters purport to save. Wind turbines destroy the aesthetics of untold mesas and plateaus in eastern New Mexico and as well as the majestic beauty of the broad, sweeping plains of West Texas while ethanol promises to fuel our cars while placing our bath water at risk.

This practice of destroying what one purports to save reminds me of my undergraduate biology professor who spent every class promoting liberal ideology. My professor loved to articulate how much pollution engines produced based upon their size and corresponding fuel emissions.  She believed engines smaller than 1.4 liters were acceptable because they released minimum amounts of pollution into the atmosphere. 

But she demonstrated the incongruence of her ideology upon telling us we should all be recycling our newspapers. When she said this my hand immediately went up. She called on me and I asked, “How big are the engines in the trucks that travel block to block in our cities, picking up old newspapers people put out on the curb to recycle?” She looked at me somewhat puzzled and said nothing, so I continued: “I think it’s fair to say that the engines in those trucks are 6.5 liters or larger; that’s over 4.5 liters bigger than your 1.4 liter dream engine and produces over 4.5 times the pollution” Only a liberal would advocate such a self-defeating recycling scheme. I also asked  whether the trees we  would save through such recycling represented a great enough gain to offset the 4.5 times greater amount of pollution we pump into the air just in accumulating old newspapers to recycle?

Evident in all this is the inescapable importance of the petroleum infrastructure in this nation. Just as we cannot transport or construct wind turbines, create ethanol, or pick up old newspapers for recycling purposes without the use of petroleum fuels, we  cannot reasonably hope to create an infrastructure for an alternative fuel quickly. If one traces the history of our petroleum infrastructure back the hey-days of Standard Oil, it has taken approximately 120 years for us to put the current, petroleum based infrastructure in place; no fuel that could be created apart from petroleum could  feasibly be a practical one with a reliable, nationwide infrastructure in less than decades.

Compounding the ignorance liberals demonstrate, the majority of those pushing various alternative fuels do so while simultaneously opposing expanding oil exploration and production in the United States. In doing this, they demonstrate they are so blinded by their eco-Marxist worldview that they cannot comprehend that the subsequent rise in petroleum prices, an unavoidable result of a limited supply, threatens to  drive the prices of any future discovery of “affordable” alternative energy beyond the reach of the average American.  This is due to the fact that regardless of the new fuel, it will be necessary to use the old workhorse, petroleum, in the discovering and gathering of it, as well as the transporting and constructing of whatever new infrastructure shall be necessary to make the new fuel practical.

For now, alternative fuels present no viable alternative to petroleum.  In particular, the options of wind and corn are so petroleum reliant that promoting them as part of “tomorrow’s answers” is similar to driving thousands of dump trucks from block to block to pick up old newspapers in our cities each day, billowing thick, dark clouds of smoke into the atmosphere all in the name of clean air.

We need answers now, not ten years from now.  They have to involve oil and gasoline, because those are the fuels our economy runs on.

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