Among fuel sources, petroleum represents the single largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the United State, accounting for 42.7 percent of the total, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Coal accounts for 34.6 percent, and natural gas 22.4 percent.
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. In March 2015 the monthly global average for C02 concentration surpassed 400 parts per million, the first time that had occurred since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began tracking the data in 1979.
Other troubling data points:
- Scientists ranked 2014 as the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880. Separate analyses by NOAA and NASA found that the Earth’s average surface temperature during the year was 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average of 57.4 degrees. The previous high for such an anomaly was a tie between 2005 and 2010 (1.17 degrees).
- Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. The outlier was 1998, when an unusually strong El Nino warming trend occurred.
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 petroleum-based fuels limits our ability to reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere without severely damaging the economy and our 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, and methanol, we could quickly replace millions of gallons of gasoline. Since the average American car emits more than 4 metric 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 much 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 2015 report, nearly 44 percent of the nation — 138.5 million people — live in counties where the level of ozone or particulate matter is so high that the air is unhealthy 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 2014 Harvard study said that women who were exposed to high levels of particulate matter during their pregnancies, especially during the third trimester, had twice the risk of having a child diagnosed with autism compared with women in areas with low levels of pollution.
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
More fuel-efficient cars are rolling off the assembly lines, but ask yourself: When’s the next time you’ll be able to buy a new car? Fuel Freedom’s goal is to give Americans a choice of cheaper alternative fuels like ethanol and methanol that can be used in the vehicles they already drive.
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 our oceans, rivers and other waterways.
Regardless of where spills occur along the supply chain — at well sites, storage facilities, pipelines, or when it’s transported by ship or rail — these disasters exact a devastating toll on wildlife and the environment, as well as human lives and livelihoods.
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 epidemic of derailments of trains carrying crude. The surge in U.S. oil production, mostly in shale-rock plays in North Dakota and texas, brought a 4,000 percent increase in the number of shipments of oil by rail between 2008 and 2014. The predominant tanker is the DOT-111, a rail car designed in the 1960s that has leaked in several derailments. 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.
Among the more high-profile recent accidents:
- On July 6, 2013, a trainload of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale play 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. The scars in the town remain.
- 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 “only” 800,000 gallons were spilled. In 2014, another 57,000 gallons were spilled from a record 141 “unintentional releases.”
- On May 19, 2015, a pipeline owned by a Texas company ruptured, spilling more than 100,000 gallons of crude near Santa Barbara, along the Southern California coast. Tar balls from the spill were discovered up to 100 miles away. The metal in the pipe was found to be badly corroded.
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 waterways or groundwater. Some of those spills contained benzene, a component of crude, which is known to cause cancer.
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
Extracting oil from the ground is dirty, dangerous work. Transporting product 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. In May 2015 the federal government proposed new rules to improve the safety of oil trains, but the rail and oil industries objected to some provisions, owing to the high costs.
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 allow alternative fuels like ethanol and methanol to compete with gasoline at the pump. Ethanol, for instance, is much less volatile than crude, and dissipates quickly if it’s spilled in rivers or streams, minimizing the risk to wildlife compared with crude spills.