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Energy Independence

08/27/08 7:55AM By Bill Mares
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With gasoline hovering around $4.00 a gallon, SUV's piling up in used-car lots, and world demand for oil in the passing lane, "Energy Independence!" is certainly the political phrase du jour.  

But what does that really mean? Recently, I got a chance to pose that question to my own energy expert, my brother Jan. He's a former assistant secretary in the Department of Energy who now works for the Dept. of Homeland Security.
  
On a lovely day last week we hiked up Mt. Abraham, powered by ham sandwiches and the solar energy of a long-hidden sun. Trained as a chemist and a lawyer, Jan picked his way through my questions as carefully as we picked our way across rain-scoured roots and tricky slabs of granite.
   
"Let's limit ourselves to oil," I suggested, "that's complicated enough."  

"OK," he said. "Oil independence from whom? From Arabs, from Venezuela, from Mexico, from Canada, from Russia? We import 60% of our 20 million barrel-a-day oil consumption. It's simply not feasible to replace completely that amount of consumption with alternative fuels.
   
"Neither we nor the major oil companies control the world's reserves. And much of it is in volatile hands or volatile regions. The oil shocks of the 1970's may have faded, but now energy-rich Russia is rattling its well-oiled sabers towards Europe and in the Caucasus. The U.S. has a fleet of about 250 million vehicles with an average life of 9 years. And you can't just force people to get rid of Yukons and go to Priuses."
   
Jan pointed out that the debate is made more complex by the competing claims of advocates for one path or one particular technological fix, and by dire predictions like the one warning us that we have already reached 'Peak Oil'."  
   
"But you can work the margins in a number of areas," he said. "On the supply side, there is ethanol from cellulose - not from corn, some off-shore drilling and more efficient oil extraction. On the demand side, there are conservation measures the public may buy such as higher fuel efficiency standards, fuel cells, and more hybrid cars."  

"Achieving energy 'independence' is delusional," Jan said. "But the U.S. can and should build greater energy 'security' by blunting domestic demand, modestly expanding domestic supplies and improving technological efficiencies. Like gears in a Mercedes-Benz, his words meshed smoothly with those in a book called GUSHER OF LIES, by Robert Bryce, which also punctures the bubble of "energy independence."  
   
Bryce concludes - and I quote - "The world is growing smaller every day. There is no room on this shrinking planet for walls of any kind. Whether the issue is energy, global carbon dioxide levels, banking, communications or the free flow of goods, people and ideas, the world... must accept interdependence as a fact of life."

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