Oil is the single largest source of carbon dioxide in the United States. It’s responsible for 42 percent of the CO2 emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s far more than is attributed to coal (34 percent) and natural gas (24 percent), which are used not for transportation but to heat and light our homes.
Emissions from power plants are being reduced as more utilities switch to cleaner-burning, abundant natural gas. The rising number of installations of renewable sources like solar and wind has helped.
A similar shift needs to happen with oil consumption, because we can’t address the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions (most of which is carbon dioxide) without dealing with oil.
CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap heat within the earth’s atmosphere, elevating global temperatures. The Scripps Institute at the University of California, San Diego reported in April 2014 that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was measured at 401.33 parts per million , the first time in human history the concentration had exceeded 400.
Other troubling data points:
- Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 (the outlier being 1998, when an unusually strong El Nino warming trend occurred).
- In 2014, we experienced the warmest June since climate records began being logged in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- The average surface temperature on the planet was 61.2 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.3 degrees above the average for June in the 20th century.
Climate change can’t necessarily explain individual weather events: Some regions of the world are exceedingly dry (as in California, which is facing a historic drought), while others get battered by violent storms. The trend is toward more and more unpredictable extremes that will only intensify as temperatures keep rising.
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
Our complete dependence on gasoline limits our ability to reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere without causing great harm to our economy and quality of life.
But if we created a truly competitive marketplace in which consumers could choose between gasoline and cheaper, cleaner-burning alternatives like ethanol, methanol and compressed natural gas, we could quickly replace millions of gallons of gasoline. Since the average American car emits about six tons of carbon dioxide each year, the environmental benefits of replacement fuels would add up quickly if those fuels were easily accessible. .
In this case, what’s good for the economy would also be good for the planet.
Motor vehicles are responsible for about half the air pollution generated in the United States.
U.S. air quality is a lot better than it used to be, thanks in large part to power plants shifting from coal to cleaner natural gas. Regulations have made vehicles more fuel-efficient as well, and thousands of people have switched to plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles. Together, these have helped bring down pollution levels, even as the number of total vehicle miles has approximately doubled since 1970.
And yet still too many people live in areas where the air is dangerously dirty: According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2014 report, 47 percent of the nation — 147.6 million people — live in places where pollution levels make it dangerous to breathe.
Tailpipe emissions contain a variety of toxic substances , among them:
- Hydrocarbons. These include benzene, which is also found in cigarettes, and which can cause leukemia, lymphoma and other cancers.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx). They react with hydrocarbons to form ground-level ozone, a major component of smog, which stings the eyes and can damage the lungs.
- Carbon monoxide (CO). This gas is created when there’s not enough oxygen to thoroughly burn the gasoline in an engine. In high enough concentrations, it’s poisonous.
- Particulate matter. Fine particles that are produced from combustion of a variety of fuels, including diesel fuel, wood and coal. Given their small size, they can lodge in the lungs, elevating the risk of respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease.
Air pollution causes a wide range of health problems, including asthma, cancer and heart attacks and strokes. Young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable, and pollution tends to be worse in urban areas.
A 2011 study at the University of Southern California, which has studied the effects of freeway pollution for years, showed that pollution in heavy traffic caused inflammation in the brains of mice that was similar to the effects of Alzheimer’s. A Harvard study from 2014 found a link between Salt Lake City’s dreadful wintertime air pollution and that city’s soaring rate of autism among children.
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
Vehicles that are more technologically advanced, with better gas mileage, are rolling off the assembly lines every day. But ask yourself: When’s the next time you’ll be able to buy a new car? Fuel Freedom’s goal is to give drivers a choice of cheaper alternative fuels like ethanol, methanol and compressed natural gas, today.
Creating wider access to replacement fuels will displace a portion of the gasoline we burn, resulting in fewer toxic compounds being sent into the air.
One of the most devastating effects of our oil addiction is the high number of oil spills that pollute waterways and communities.
Regardless of where spills occur along the supply chain — at well sites, storage facilities, pipelines, ships or train cars — they’ve exacted a devastating toll on human life, as well as the environment.
In 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 workers. Oil gushed from the seafloor well for 87 days, spilling more than 200 million gallons. The disaster dwarfed the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident, when the oil tanker ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
Another issue is the increasing number of derailments of trains carrying crude. As U.S. oil production continues to surge, thanks in large part to the Bakken shale-oil formation (underneath parts of North Dakota, Montana and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba) , more and more oil must be shipped through an antiquated rail system. The tanker of choice is the DOT-111, a car designed in the 1960s that has a propensity to leak if its steel hull is breached in a derailment. Critics have called it the “Ford Pinto of rail cars.” Worsening the problem, the U.S. transportation secretary has said that Bakken oil seems to be more volatile than other types of crude. The oil industry and its proponents dispute this claim.
- On July 6, 2013, a trainload of Bakken oil went out of control and crashed in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, in Quebec. Oil tankers ignited, and an inferno engulfed the downtown, killing 47 people.
- In January 2014, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers published an investigation, citing federal data that showed 1.15 million gallons of crude had spilled in U.S. rail accidents in 2013. In the previous 38 years from 1975 through 2012, a total of 800,000 gallons were spilled.
- In July 2014, U.S. regulators, in response to the string of derailments, announced that railroads and shipping companies would have to switch to stronger, safer tanker cars within two years.
Smaller spills don’t grab the headlines of the major disasters, but they can still be a threat to health and wildlife. As The Denver Post reported in mid-July 2014, there had been nearly 2,500 oil and gas spills in Colorado since January 2010, with almost 21 percent contaminating either surface water, like rivers, or groundwater. Some of those spills contained benzene, a component of crude, which is known to cause cancer.
Another concern is the huge quantity of water required for oil drilling. Each well uses millions of gallons of fresh water. Of the nearly 40,000 new oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, 55 percent were in areas plagued by drought, according to a report by the Ceres investor network in early 2014.
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
Extracting oil from the ground is dirty, dangerous work. Transporting from oil fields to storage sites and refineries, across thousands of miles of an aging rail system, can be equally perilous. Often communities have no idea when a flammable cargo is rolling through town, and even when there is a spill, residents sometimes aren’t told right away there’s a danger.
The best way to reduce the risk of a catastrophic accident is to reduce oil consumption in the United States. And the fastest way to do that, with our existing fuel distribution network and existing fleet of vehicles, is to clear a path for alternative fuels like ethanol and methanol to compete alongside gasoline at the pump.