Tuesday, September 12, 2006

New oil discovery does not reduce need for conservation

By La Crosse Tribune editorial staff
September 7, 2006

The announcement about a large deep-water oil field off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas certainly is good news.

But we shouldn’t assume that we can drill our way out of the current oil crisis. The world now includes a rapidly developing China, with its 1 billion residents. When more Chinese residents start consuming oil at the rate of Americans, there’s no amount of new oil fields that could make up the difference.

Instead, we’re going to have to get smarter — and pretty quickly — about how we use energy.

First, the good news. A group led by Chevron Corp. has found an oil field 270 miles south of New Orleans. It lies four miles beneath the ocean floor. Current technology makes exploiting such fields possible, and the new discovery is estimated to have as much as 15 billion barrels of oil, more than Prudhoe Bay in Alaska.

That’s great news, but it is not, as one expert put it, “energy independence.” For that, we must look as much on the demand side of the oil issue as the supply side.

About 67 percent of oil consumed in the United States is for transportation, so anything we do to make our vehicles more fuel-efficient and to switch as much as we can to hybrid electric and gas cars or alternative fuels such as ethanol and bio-diesel, will help.

In addition to alternative fuels, mass transit options need to be more fully explored.

Critics of stronger fuel-efficiency standards often argue that it just means more small and light vehicles with more injuries in crashes.

But car designers can be more inventive about fuel consumption without making vehicles less safe. It can be done; we just need to make it a priority.

In a story by The Associated Press, an energy consultant said of the new oil discovery: “It’s a nice positive, but the U.S. still has a big difference between its consumption and indigenous production. We’ll still be importing more than 50 percent of our oil needs.”

That’s why increased fuel efficiency and conservation is so important.

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