OIL - Can We Afford To Burn It?

By: Ray Babina and Ray McAlister

Walt Stewart, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist, once remarked that burning oil was like burning Rembrandt's paintings to make light for reading a newspaper. Reading the Sunday paper including supplements could use Rembrandt's entire contribution of masterpieces! Virtually no one would advocate burning Rembrandt's masterpieces, but are we doing something equally wasteful.

Modern America depends upon oil to generate more income from non-fuel products than from all the fuel sales. About 6% of the oil produced in America is used for non-fuel petrocarbon products. This creates more revenues than the sale of fuels made from the remaining 94%.

According to reports from major oil companies such as Exxon Chemical Co., 100 gallons of fuel oil sells for about $100. This amount of oil can be refined into gasoline and diesel fuels or it can be processed into more than $3,500 worth of non-fuel products.

Here is a typical mix of non-fuel products made from 100 gallons of crude oil: 47 gallons of lubricants, 41 white polyester shirts (65% polyester, 35% cotton), 910 pairs of pantyhose or 9 small TV cabinets, 13 plastic garbage cans, 46 sweaters or 11 blankets, polymer for 2 automobile tires or 27 bicycle tires, fiber reinforcement for 4.6 full-size auto tires, and 30 large toys made of injection molded plastic.

(You can look around and find wonderful carpeting, cabinet tops, roofing, siding, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, paint, fine clothing, automobile parts, medical appliances, and many other examples of valuable goods and products that were derived from oil and that will produce more than $3,500 in sales revenues.)

Most of these $3,500 worth of products can be recycled and repeatedly returned to service in improved designs that will probably be worth much more than $3,500. Recycling usually requires much less energy than the original product production. Who knows, but what masterpieces on par with the works of Rembrandt will be painted with oil paints on canvas made from recycled pop bottles. How can we justify burning oil when the present and future values of non-fuel products far exceed the revenue received for one-time use as a pollutive fuel? (Reprint, Hydrogen Today, Vol 6, No 1 '95)

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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