Natural gas should be the vehicle fuel of the immediate future

Too often in Congress, and in our political debate, people stake out a position and, in the course of defending that position, refuse to credit anything their opponent is saying. We’ve all seen that.

When it comes to passing a clean energy plan for the United States, we need to take a broader, longer look at all of the tools we have at our disposal to accomplish two very important goals:  Enhancing national security and reducing our dependency on foreign oil.

Far from being mutually exclusive, these two crucial goals are complementary and should be understood as goals that are beyond partisan politics. They really are crucial for our country’s future, along with the pressing need we also have to spur job growth and get our economy fueled up.

In spite of all the talk about energy independence since the first “energy crisis” in 1973, we are still importing nearly two-thirds of the oil we use in the United States. Why is this a national security problem? Because we are dependent on that oil from many countries and regions that are unstable or unfriendly to the United States.

Month after month, we are spending about $25 billion to buy foreign oil. Over the course of a year, that may add up to $300 billion. That is money that should be circulating through the economy of the United States, instead of the economies of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela.

To show just how dangerous this situation is becoming, earlier this month CNBC reported that Russia has surpassed Saudi Arabia as “the top crude oil producer in the world, pumping a record 10.01 million barrels of output in September.”

Russia is the largest single supplier of natural gas to much of Europe. Last year, in the dead of winter, in a price dispute with Ukraine, Russia simply turned a valve and shut off supplies to Europe to force the affected countries to bring pressure on Ukraine to settle.

This is where using all the tools in our toolbox comes into play.

One bill making its way through the Senate and the House is the NAT GAS (S.1408) Act, which will help provide tax incentives to change cars and trucks running on imported gasoline and diesel to natural gas.

With recent improvements in the techniques and technology to recover natural gas from the enormous shale deposits under the continental United States, studies indicate we could have natural gas deposits that would last for more than 100 years. This is a sea-change from what we thought our natural gas reserves were prior to being able to utilize these so-called “shale plays.”

Going to domestic natural gas as a principal transportation fuel will also have significant, if not almost immediate, impacts on the U.S. economy. Along with jobs being created in other alternative energy areas, we can produce and/or save thousands of jobs in the supply chain of natural gas vehicles, from the well-head to the manufacturing floor and from sales and distribution to fueling and maintenance.

Seventy percent of the oil we import is used as transportation fuel. We can’t run 18-wheelers on batteries and, while we can and should do more with renewable energy sources like wind and solar, putting fuel in the gas tank is a special challenge. There are over 10 million natural gas vehicles in the world, but only about 130,000 in the United States. Natural gas can be used in virtually any vehicle running on our streets and highways.

Natural gas is cleaner than either oil or coal. In fact, natural gas emits almost 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil, and just under 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal. And natural gas produces almost no particulate emissions.

Natural gas can and must be developed in an environmentally responsible way that includes involvement from local communities. But properly developed, it can play a significant role in our energy future.

It is a bridge fuel that can get us to the next era of clean fuels. Natural gas will not last forever, and we will not need to use it forever. But, as a transition fuel, it can help us do our part in cleaning up the planet, it can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and it can provide a real boost for jobs and the economy.

— U.S. Sen. Mark Udall


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