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Editorial: Natural Gas Would Lessen US Oil Dependency

This story was written by Editorial Board, The Lariat

In the last few years, skyrocketing gasoline prices have given a large push for alternative fuels. Ethanol, wind and solar-powered turbines, natural gas, along with many other ideas, have gushed out of the scientific world. But with the recent economic crisis and the credit crunch that it has lead to, the progress of alternative fuels may be disrupted if the U.S. government does not step in and offer aid to emerging alternative fuel companies.

These companies are suffering not only because of the economy but also because of the 60-percent plunge in oil prices. Congress needs to support alternative energy initiatives because it would benefit Americans in the long run.

Just because oil prices are down now doesn't mean that it will continue to stay that way. Oil prices aren't immune to fluctuation, and when it does go up, then America's foreign oil dependency problem would not have changed.

President-elect Barack Obama's comprehensive New Energy for America plan includes a $150 billion investment in clean energy, over the span of 10 years. His other goals are to, within 10 years, decrease America's dependency on foreign oil by saving more oil than what we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined and, by 2015, to put 1 million American-made Plug-In Hybrid cars, which can get up to 150 miles per gallon, on the road.

Anything to decrease the dependency on foreign oil should sound great to a nation of SUV-loving, drive-my-car-two-blocks-down-the-road- instead-of-walking nation.

Since the choice of transportation for many Americans involves driving cars, an investment in alternative fuels such as naturals gas is necessary.

While most fuels discussed are for the energy grid, only natural gas and ethanol have the potential to fuel America's cars and trucks any time soon, according to the United States Department of Energy.

Suggestions for the use of ethanol to fuel cars have met some challenges. Ethanol can't be used in its sole form yet, and is currently mixed with gasoline to provide a commercially viable fuel.

Natural gas would be an easier way to transition out of a oil-dominated industry because the technology is already available, affordable and feasible for international commerce.

Natural gas has been a fuel supply for several centuries, and in that time, technology has grown along with the demand for it. Ethanol hasn't had that luxury. Although it's been a fuel source for several thousand years, it has never had the research necessary to make it a international commodity. With more studies it could become viable, but until then, natural gas is a better alternative.

The best benefit of cars running on natural gas is the price. The grade of fuel necessary for running a car costs about 63 cents per gallon.

Unfortunately, there are currently drawbacks to using natural gas. According to the Energy Information Administration, in the United States there are 1500 natural gas stations compared with 200,000 gas stations. In Texas, there are 27 natural gas stations, but not all are located in major cities.

Currently, there are five stations in Houston, 11 in Dallas and one in Austin. There are several others around the state, but anyone taking a trip from Dallas to Austin would be hard-pressed to make it from one filling station to another and would be cutting it close.

As of now, the only legal, commercially available natural gas-powered vehicle allowed on United States' highways is Honda's Civic GX, according to Natural Gas Vehicles for America, but any car can be transformed into a natural gas vehicle with the right adapter. Storage cylinders for gas-burning cars can cost $4000. The addition would save money inthe long run. They average 39 miles-per-gallon on the highway and produce fewer emissions than normal cars.

According to Paul Roberts, author of "The End of Oil," having more than one option at the pump will serve American drivers well. Oil companies would have to spend more money on researching more efficient ways of drilling for oil in hopes of keeping customers from switching to cheaper, alternative fuels.

If Obama and Americans are truly serious in lessening our nations reliance on foreign oil, then a plan needs to be drawn up for increasing the availability of natural gas stations across the country and build natural gas powered cars. If this happens, then more Americans would be willing to make jump ship from gasoline to natural gas.

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