Why Natural Gas Is the Solution

There is a comprehensive solution to both our high cost of gasoline and dependence on foreign oil. It’s called natural gas. Here’s why.

First, unlike crude oil, natural gas is de-coupled from the world market. However much we increase oil production (say in Alaska), the Chinese or Indians will bid against us for it. This is because crude oil can be cheaply shipped by ocean tanker. Natural gas is different. It is prohibitively expensive to ship liquefied natural gas by ship around the world. The only cost-effective way to transport natural gas is by pipeline. No matter how much natural gas we produce, it will always be cheaper for China to pipeline it from Siberia. However much natural gas we produce, it’s off the world market. We get to consume what we produce for ourselves.

Second, the U.S. has gigantic amounts of natural gas reserves, between one and two quadrillion cubic feet in the offshore waters of our continental shelf. Energy companies are not permitted to extract it except off Texas, Louisiana, and Alaska. Both the Feds and the state governments prevent its extraction in Washington, Oregon, California, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and New England. If natural gas extraction were permitted along the entire U.S. continental shelf, we would be energy independent within three to five years.

Third, any modern car’s or truck’s internal combustion engine using either gasoline or diesel can easily be converted to additionally using natural gas. Such conversion to dual-fuel use requires no engine modification. You just need a compressed natural gas tank, an injector and control valve. The natural gas-powered engine is a mature proven technology in use for a half-century. Nothing has to be invented. Unlike hydrogen or fuel-cell futurism, this is here and now, ready to go.

Fourth, a compressor installed in your garage connected to your home’s natural gas line will fill up your car’s compressed natural gas tank with the same gas that heats your home and cooks your food. One such home compressor is called Phill made by FuelMaker Corp. One compressed natural gas tankfull gives your car a range of 200-300 miles. Dual-fuel cars running both natural gas and gasoline/diesel, using the latter only for long out-of-city drives, filling up their compressed natural gas tank overnight at home, will achieve energy independence for the U.S. and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.

At present, natural gas prices ($6.70 per tcf — thousand cubic feet), compressed natural gas-powered cars (such as the already-produced Honda Civic GX) average 5 cents a mile. Greatly increasing production through offshore extraction will drop the price to mid-90s levels of $2 to $3 per tcf. Driving your car would cost a penny a mile, 3 cents a mile for a Cadillac Escalade or Hummer 2.

This can be achieved — penny-a-mile cost of driving and energy independence — by a combination of two federal government actions:

Overcome state resistance to offshore gas drilling by sharing federal royalties with state residents. The feds would get a third, state governments a third, state residents a third. Directly paying residents of natural gas-producing states one-third of federal royalties will render those residents enthusiastic proponents of natural gas extraction. The check they get in the mail, which will be hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year per resident (including children), is passive income and not subject to Social Security/FICA taxes.

Provide tax credits for compressed natural gas home compressors, compressed natural gas duel-fuel car conversion, installation of commercial compressed natural gas tanks and compressors by service stations, and the purchase of dual-fuel vehicles. This overcomes the chicken-and-egg problem by enabling people to purchase a home compressor and convert their car at little cost (i.e., with money they would have sent to the IRS), plus give them natural gas availability at service stations. The IRS will make up the money with the drilling royalties.

All President Bush has to do is get Congress to allow oil and gas companies to extract the vast amounts of natural gas we have off our shores, cut state residents in on the wealth, provide tax credits for folks to run natural gas in their cars, and before his presidency is over, Americans will be driving a penny or two a mile, and he will have achieved a presidential legacy of energy independence for America.

Our economy will boom, we’ll no longer be hostage to foreign oil, and our environment will be cleaner. For the natural gas solution is an environmentalist’s dream. Natural gas burns far more cleanly than gasoline, diesel, or ethanol. Fueling our cars (and city buses and delivery vehicles) with natural gas will greatly reduce both CO2 and photochemical smog emissions.

Cheap gas, energy independence, and a cleaner environment: that’s the natural gas solution. And it can be done right now. No years of research and development, no new technology. The natural gas solution can be implemented immediately. What are we waiting for?