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It strikes me as odd that in such an advanced technological age, that we are still so dependent on crude oil. The arguments for offshore drilling seem both too long in coming and far short of the long term solution. Simply put, my concern is that there is only a finite amount of this natural resource. Focusing on oil as our quick fix only serves to complicate this same issue for generations down the road. The price of crude oil has a huge effect on the economies of nations who depend upon it and does nothing to create an alternative in its depletion.

The kindred issue of nuclear power seems to me an equally ridiculous argument. It reminds me of the era of my career when I was a fine printing paper sales promotion rep for International Paper Company during the time when recycled post-consumer paper goods became all the rage. As a lover of Mother Nature and her perfect cycle of life, I am most definitely concerned with preserving our planet, but this trend was and is far more detrimental to the cause than these environmental extremists realize. It was both frustrating and infuriating to field calls from these groups about our (my company's) lack of recycled stocks. My logic in dealing with this ignorance was to explain that it was my job to research the profitability of manufacturing those products to meet the increasing demands but that it was a conflict of interest to me. The reason being is that in order to take pre-printed, post consumer paper waste and turn it into a clean paper product is far more damaging to the environment than utilizing the vast land and acres of trees harvested by the paper mills. You have to realize that paper companies are not enemies of the earth. Mind you it isn't by conscious decision that they are preservers of those oxygen producing plants, but by necessitiy of profit. If a paper company would rape the land of trees and then turn around and NOT plant more trees in their wake, they would in fact put themselves out of business. For every crop they harvest, they are continually planting new crops for later use. Furthermore, the lands on which those forests are grown are primarily privately owned and therefore brings income to individuals not associated with the paper business, thus creating profits for private citizens outside the industry.

In order to purify post-consumer print goods, a variety of chemicals must be used to bleach or remove those inks and coatings from the paper pulp. What then is done with those chemicals when they can no longer be reused? Do we designate vast acreages on which to bury them in containers whose life span is not known long term? How do we guarantee following generations that their water sources will not suffer irreversible pollution as a result of our conscious efforts to preserve the environment? That strikes me as an oxymoron of prolific danger. But I digressed a bit....

Nuclear power supporters claim that it is a viable alternative to crude oil for production of power. Why has no one in opposition come forward with any kind of factual argument as to the dangers of this 'godsend' of an answer to the energy crisis? I am not even speaking in terms of the risk of meltdown. I am referring to the byproduct and its usage or its disposal, and the small amounts emitted into our atmosphere over time. How can we control the emissions leaking dangerous chemicals such as iodine and plutonium into our environment? The answer is that we simply cannot completely control those trace amounts. The half-life of some of these elements is an eternity in relation to our lifespans. What will our grandchildrens' children be dealing with as a result of our failure to face this now?

Udo Fehn, professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Rochester, is leading a team researching the effects of leaching in areas near nuclear facilities. In the team's report, "Byproduct of Nuclear Reprocessing Still Present in Western New York," facts are revealed in studies that lend frightening credence to my own concerns. Using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS), a technique developed at the university, they are measuring long-lived radioactive isotopes still present in the areas surrounding power plants whose production has been dormant for as many as 20 years in the case of the facilities in the West Valley. The team found elevated levels of Iodine-129 over 125 miles from the site of a nuclear reprocessing facility that was only in operation from 1966 to 1972. Imagine the severity of the problem possible with plants operating at peak levels over extended periods of time. In my opinion, the risks far outweigh the benefits when there are so many other alternative energy sources whose viability we haven't even begun to explore.

In Labelle, Florida, a citrus grower by the name of Bryan Beer is one of those individuals who is taking the subject seriously. He considers himself a bit of a pioneer in the fight to find alternatives. His claim to fame? Jatropha, originating in South America which produces a golf-ball-sized fruit whose seed can be pressed to excrete an oil which can be used directly in any standard diesel engine without any processing necessary at all. This is an exciting development. Less than one percent of diesel fuel used annually comes from actual biodiesel. Actually, the majority comes from soybeans, animal fats and recycled oil, but this fruit promises to one up those alternatives in that there is virtually little cost, relatively speaking, to producing ready oil. Early opponents argue that land once used to grow food crops will then be used to grow Jatropha, therefore adding to the concern of escalating food prices, but it's certainly worth researching.

What would you say if I told you that turkey guts, junk car parts and raw sewage can go into the end of a factory and come out the other end as oil? You'd probably call me crazy, but that is just what is happening in a thermal conversion process plant in Carthage, Missouri. The chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, Brian Appel, has been attempting to bring this exciting development into the light of public knowledge and offer this technology as an effective alternative to crude oil drilling. The facility has faced hurdles in refining the technique, floundered when federal subsidies were postponed, and has lost profits since it's birth, but now, with $100 million in private donations and $17 million in government grants, the company may see it's first profits since its inception. The resulting fuel comes out better than crude oil and no refinery is needed to use it. A similar plant is utilizing a thermo depolymerisation process to achieve the same results. With the US Environmental Protection Agency footing a 14.5 million dollar tab to fund four more plants, we may well be witnessing a move in the right direction.

How would you like to pull up in your driveway, hook your gas tank up to an ATM sized ethanol converter and pump 35 gallons of ethanol a week right into your automobile? California-based E-Fuel Corp unveiled the 100 MicroFueler in May 2008. The machine runs on electricity and turns sugar and water into alcohol, the main energy producing component of ethanol. Believe it or not, the machine can produce a gallon of the fuel for just under a buck....Yep a dollar. Compared to a gallon of gas that's a compelling argument for the technology. The only catch is that auto manufactures do not endorse the sole use of ethanol in present day cars, so folks would have to fill their tanks three quarters with the new fuel and top off their tanks with regular gasoline.

Finally, let's take a look at T. Boone Pickens, the man behind Pickens Plan. An American businessman, ranked as the117th-richest person in America and 369th in the world. He has given more than $700 million away to charity, sharing his successes with those less fortunate. His plan? His passion? Finding viable alternatives for energy consumption that will not deplete the earth of its natural resources or pollute our atmosphere and thereby protecting not only our environmental concerns, but also giving America the chance to become far less dependent on foreign oil. He argues that natural gas reserves are more than twice the petroleum reserves here in the states, yet only 1% of natural gas is being used in the field of transportation. Responsibly tapping into those resources could drastically reduce the use of crude oil.

The other argument Pickens makes is for the industry of wind power. The Department of Energy admits that 20% of our electricity can feasibly come from wind. The drawback is in the construction of facilities. It is indeed an extremely high-priced endeavor, but in defense, it is a one time cost while the price of importing oil is an ongoing expense. The investment is in not only building the windmills, but the facilities to transmit that energy to cities, towns and other states, but T. Boone believes these ventures are more than worth it. The state of North Dakota by itself could produce power for more than one fourth of the country. With the combination of harnessing wind power and responsible use of natural gas, Pickens believes that more than one third of our dependency on foreign oil can be eliminated in just 10 years. That's not even including all the other myriad of energy electives we can employ.


Links to several related articles are listed below if you'd like to read more.

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Comment by David Eide on August 11, 2008 at 4:14pm
Hi Patricia,

In another life I was a contributing editor for an energy and environmental magazine and wrote extensively about solar power. I agree with the gist of your post here and, in fact, much of what is stated here will be fact in the 21st century. Consumers respond to price such as now when the price of gas is getting them out of SUV's and into hybrids. Alternative fuels need breakthrough technology, consumer demand, and political leadership. When these things are in place you'll see a big push. A breakthrough technology would be the development of superconductivity so you could put windmills in Texas, Montana, Dakotas and transmit the electrical power long distances without energy loss. I've always been enthusiastic about solar power, especially, and think it will make some startling changes in this century.


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