Friday, September 02, 2005

On gouging and meeting the challenges

Last week at this time, I was paying $2.50 or thereabouts for regular gasoline.
Today, I'd be paying $3.25 or more (but I filled up Wednesday afternoon at $2.75 and still have a lot left in the tank).
Obviously, Hurricane Katrina has disrupted some of the supply.
But are we being gouged? Most assuredly.
That's not the biggest problem, though.
There are several others.
1 - There are limits on supply. We're not active enough in pursuing other sites. Sometimes, it's not financially feasible or only marginally so... which is way, for example, Alberta's oil sands are just starting to really be explored. Sometimes, it's sheer lunacy by lefties who, for example, don't want exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. I remember reading one woman saying "I want my grandchildren to be able to see this." Hey, lady... nobody can get up there to see it now if you don't already live there or have mega-mega-bucks to fly into the area. Also, you've got a much better chance of your grandchildren actually being able to see the wildlife there if you improve transportation in that area. A pipeline route out of there will certainly improve that possibility. And I won't even go near the NIMBY (not in my back yard, for those who haven't lived in anything resembling suburbia) attitudes that have left us with aging refineries, not new ones.
2 - We are not doing anything to come up with real alternatives to oil. Oh, we had some half-hearted tries back in the 1970s and early 1980s. I remember a local police department getting a couple of its engines to run on propane. I also remember some service stations offering "gasohol," which was petroleum blended with corn alcohol. It didn't run badly at all (I tried a couple of tanks), but soon it was more expensive than regularly produced gasoline.
What we need right now, more than anything else, is the equivalent of the Manhattan Project for transportation fuels. (Hat tip to Philadelphia talk show host Steve Martorano, who has pushed the idea for a while now. I disagree with him on a lot of things, but not this one.)
The Manhattan Project enabled the U.S. to develop the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The brainpower is still out there. We're smart enough to be able to develop a transportation-propelling fuel using something (or some things) other than petroleum.
The whole thing with hybrid cars (and I did look at one a few months ago when I bought the Scion) isn't the real answer. Hybrids are still a couple of years away from being as reliable as "regular" vehicles... there are still a lot of issues that only time can work out, just the same as it takes a couple of years to iron out the bugs in a new model car.
I heard someone on a talkfest discuss the idea of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Why not? Certainly, hydrogen is everywhere. We breathe a bit of it. We certainly consume it every day in water. We wouldn't have to rely on a bunch of unstable governments in the Middle East and South America to keep the pumps flowing. We could do that ourselves.
Here's where I think the federal government has a real role. Remember, so many of the advances in the past 50 or so years that have made our lives different (including the Web on which we are communicating) first came to pass as solutions to national defense problems -- the transistor, which revolutionized radio and TV; the computer; and many more.
It would behoove the government to ensure that military vehicles (planes, trucks, tanks, etc.) have a sure supply of fuel. So why not have government scientists develop an engine that can run on, say, hydrogen, with the efficiencies of the current petroleum-fueled engines? The government can then license the new technology (for a nice fee, of course) to the automakers and plane manufacturers, end our dependence on imported oil, impoverish the bastards who in the name of radical Islamism are trying to kill us (and if they ain't got the cash, there ain't a lot they're gonna be able to do, as my compadre Regular Ron would argue) and there'd still be plenty of jobs available for folks like CUG.
Isn't it time to make a serious commitment?