ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: Oil, we need it for almost everything | Opinion

In today’s world, oil is truly ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. It’s in our clothes, our shoes, our homes, almost all of our common household products, fertilizer, insecticides, herbicides and medicine. It makes our machinery spin, not to mention it heats our homes and fuels transportation. It is, in fact, an infrastructure. Our country was built on oil.

So it is not going away any time soon!

Oil was discovered in the United States in 1627 in New York at Seneca Oil Springs, just outside of Cuba. The natives of the area had known about it for hundreds of years earlier. In 1825, Fredonia was the first city to have street lighting using natural gas. In the 1850s, gasoline distillation from oil was discovered, and it was used for lighting. Later oil became the standard fuel of the day. Oil was initially processed in Pennsylvania and New York with abandon. Oil became a geopolitical force. It was oil, or the lack of it, that brought the World War II German war machine to a halt. Oil is what made America invincible.

The voyage of discovery today is to determine the future of oil. Will electric cars, a return to mass transit and next-day shipping bring to an end the use of oil? Definitely not, at least not any time soon!

Keep in mind that less than half a barrel of oil can be made into gasoline. The remainder is used for diesel fuel and derivative products. Plastics may, in the future, be the dominant material in the construction industry. Before long, plastics will be as strong as titanium.

But oil as an energy product in the future may not be so bright. Electric cars are on the rise. China is moving to make two-thirds of the cars produced in China electric. They are easier to build and maintain.

However, it will be a long time before another fuel replaces oil distillates for air transportation and freight hauling. However, a revamping of our rail system could change much of that, at least over land. Our long-distance rail freight could run on electricity. Compared to Europe, China and Japan, our rail system is horse and buggy. Our infrastructure and mind set simply doesn’t support mass transit. Since we are a crisis-oriented nation, it will stay that way. I recall an article written in National Lampoon in the early ‘70s that showed an HO-scale train set with this observation: “AmTrack! The train of yesterday meeting the needs of the people of the day before, speeding America into the ‘50s.”

Here are some statistics that should be held in the collective energy conscience: afdc.energy.gov/data/10311. Rail wins as the best passenger per mile based on Gasoline-Gallon-Equivalent, GGE. If there were improvements in our rail system to encourage more people to use it, the GGE rate would skyrocket. For your “ Livre du Jour,” may I humbly suggest a fine delight of energy erudition “Solutionary Railroad” by Moyer and Mazza.

The justification for oil, at least for now:

The energy derived from oil is significant in that there is nothing yet that can rival its BTU bang per buck. Seventy percent of oil is used for fuel and lubricants. Oil is an infrastructure in and of itself with some very entrenched roots. Oil is used and needed as a universal commodity and as a political cudgel. Due to these entrenched roots, oil is here to stay for some time.

There is also the ROI (return on investment) factor. In order to make a profit from oil, it requires a large capital investment. Contrary to the oil scare of the early to late ‘70s, oil is plentiful but harder to extract. Oil companies know this too because scheduling of production is done decades in advance. This is where the political cudgel comes in. If our nation is dependent on a single commodity, then we are vulnerable. Remember that popular phrase: “If you got’em by the short hairs, their hearts and minds will follow.” This, by itself, should be a reason to find alternative energy. After all America was founded on the notion of rugged individualism. Of course, try explaining this to a 17-year-old tethered to his or her iPhone.

We also have to consider the impact of climate change, which is playing an ever-increasing role in access to oil and natural gas. Frozen areas are now loosening up due to global warming. The recent passageway across the North Pole, which is an island of ice, has led Vladimir Putin, the oligarch of the Novi Ruskie, to make “underwater claims” of this region. Underwater in the ocean are huge reserves of oil and natural gas. Parts of Greenland are opening up for exploration, and who knows what will become of Antarctica. Oil prices since then have dropped considerably.

The US is now energy independent for the first time since World War II. I am not saying that greed didn’t shape the rapid growth of our country, nor should our shame of slavery and the genocide of the American Natives should be set aside. However, here is a sobering fact: It was oil that gave us the edge over Nazi Germany. Without it, wir würden alle deutsch sprechen.

James Bobreski is a process control engineer who has been in the field of electric power production for 43 years. His “Alternate Energy” column runs the last Sunday of the month. He is the owner of Synchronicity1 LLC, which is dedicated to designing a digital farm for independent farm operation. He has several inventions, namely a digital wire sorter, portable scoreboard, axis solar panel drive and an ubiquitously mountable LED light module. He likes to cycle and play soccer. He lives with his life partner Sherry in Penn Yan.

James Bobreski is a process control engineer who has been in the field of electric power production for 43 years. His “Alternate Energy” column runs the last Sunday of the month. He is the owner of Synchronicity1 LLC, which is dedicated to designing a digital farm for independent farm operation. He has several inventions, namely a digital wire sorter, portable scoreboard, axis solar panel drive and an ubiquitously mountable LED light module. He likes to cycle and play soccer. He lives with his life partner Sherry in Penn Yan.

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