Peak Oil image by Frank Sherosky

How politics fail America's need for energy independence

No less than eight presidents and multiple congressional sessions said they would put America on the path to energy independence. All failed, here’s why and how that can change with the NAT GAS Act.

Sometimes a reporter has to forego the usual, news-release reporting format simply because it doesn’t meet the needs of honestly reporting the issues. And the major economic issue today aside from our national debt is energy independence.

For the record, the House Ways and Means Committee will be addressing the NAT GAS Act. Unfortunately, politicians are so covered in political toxic dust these days, including the President, that I have to wonder if this one will make any headway.

I should add that corporate politics under the guise of so-called free market capitalism have played as much a role in holding back progress in the nat gas propulsion arena. Remember that cleaner autos came about in the mid-'70s, but not through corporate volunteerism.

Still, looking back from the Nixon days, one only has to review how those types of political toxicities grew and made our country worse, administration by administration, while slowly allowing us to become more dependent on foreign oil and less competitive. Yes, presidents like Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton and G.W. Bush failed to make any notable contribution; and President Obama is not doing much better with his agenda.

In their defense, the auto industry hasn’t exactly pushed for grand improvements in efficiency over the many years; I know, because I grew up in Detroit and worked in the industry as a design engineer. Because it wasn’t in their economic interests, fighting just about every government and consumer demand to improve fuel efficiency was the norm; as energy was cheap. Even now, they piecemeal their technology in steps, once again stating that it will take years to achieve the efficiency needed; never taking that giant step unless it’s forced upon them.

Well, today that force is called Peak Oil. In the meantime, government has directed via legislation mandates to improve fuel efficiency, while at the same time focusing on pet project technologies that cost a fortune.

Witness the Chevy Volt. It’s a great tech achievement by General Motors (NYSE: GM), but the $42k vehicle with extended range is too expensive for the average driver, including a retiree like me. The lease rate at $350 - $399 per month even with a government subsidy cannot compete with an efficient fuel sipping IC engine and one that has the flexibility to run on natural gas. Talk about a true flex fuel.

Environmental Conscience

As I recall, it wasn’t politicians and industrialists who brought our attention to clean up the environment. It was the hippie generation. Yes, those long-haired, pot smokers at least had the sense to see beyond Wall Street profits that we were polluting our own land; and something had to be done about it.

Politicians then paid lip service and pandered as usual, but that brought about a political activism which forced the issue. And that’s the problem. Why do the right tings always have to be pushed? Why don’t they ever come natural?

Still, we go to war over areas of the world that have oil deposits, while we metaphorically starve with a loaf of energy bread in each hand. Point is, we have plenty of natural resources, but we fail to use them wisely.

Pickens Plan

That is why I support the Pickens Plan, as it has come to be called, because it addresses our plight in a creative and well-thought-out way; far better than most plans I have ever read.

It would focus first on the nation's huge fleet of 18-wheeler trucks that move billions of dollars' worth of goods across country. These would be converted from diesel fuel to natural gas through tax credits based on the vehicles' weight, and other credits to support the construction of fueling stations.

Imagine fleet vehicles, where fueling stations act as large hubs along interstates, attached to existing fuel stops. Why start there first? The trucking industry consumes about 10 percent of the 20 million barrels of oil per day that the nation's economy uses. Get the picture now?

According to a fine article out of the Houston Chronicle ( ) , cars would be converted more slowly, but could eventually be run on natural gas - or better yet on "flex fuel." It then quoted a New York Times article which stated, former national security adviser Robert McFarlane and former director of central intelligence R. James Woolsey laid out the case for converting U.S. vehicles to "flex fuel," as has been done widely in Brazil. According to the two veteran policymakers, adding a flex-fuel option to a standard, gasoline-drinking vehicle costs only about $100, and many of the flex-fuel vehicles sold in Brazil are Ford, Chrysler and General Motors products.

That makes me ask, why there and not here in America? Answer, politics are driving toward electrification with blinders on.

Now do not take this wrong. I believe in the electrification of the automobile, but not when the cost crushes human economic capability. Frankly, I like the light-electric of the Buick eAssist ™; it’s practical but not over the top with cost. Yet, there are other similar technologies.

Viable Alternatives Besides Electrification

Point is, we will get to energy independence eventually, including hydrogen run fuel cells; but in the meantime there are viable alternatives that can keep us on the path toward a clean environment and energy independence; and at a cost that is less troubling to the average American.

If there is one thing I have uncovered since I started writing about auto technology is this: The IC engine is far from dead. There is at least one more major step in its evolution that the automakers have failed to cash in. Witness the split-cycle engines of Scuderi and Tour which have air hybrid capability. Witness the external combustion steam engine of Cyclone Power which Raytheon says is “game changer”; and the two-cycle diesel of Achates Power which is already targeting trucks.

And all of these can be built using present manufacturing plants and technologies; plus, there is no need for giant and immediate infrastructure changes.

As Pickens told the Houston Chronicle last week, expressing enthusiastic support for the flex-fuel option, "As I've said many times before, I'm for anything American."

Now it’s time for us American citizens to demand change that WE believe in, not change that is politicall, party or corporate expedient.

Reduce the cost of energy in America and many jobs will follow; and likely will rise to meet the demands of a more efficient and prosperous nation.

About the Reporter: After 39 years in the auto industry as a design engineer, Frank Sherosky now trades stocks, futures and writes articles, books and ebooks like, "Perfecting Corporate Character," "Awaken Your Speculator Mind", and "Millennial World Order" via He may be contacted here by email: [email protected] or via his Twitter i.d. @Authorfranks

Additional Reading:
Split-cycle engine technology to challenge EVs and hybrids
GM is driving American technology to tomorrow via China
CAR MBS 2011 reveals auto industry still uncertain on next IC Engine choices
Achates Power addresses commercial truck mileage and emission standards
Why Obama's proposed CAFE standards to 56.2 mpg IS feasible
Michele Bachmann fails to deliver how she would achieve 2 dollar gasoline
Cyclone Power receives tenth international patent for external combustion engine
Raytheon: Cyclone Power's combustion engine game changer
Auto industry compromise with expensive EVs fails the masses

Sign-up to our email newsletter for daily perspectives on car design, trends, events and news, not found elsewhere.

Share this content.


Just read an article that states supporting the Nat Gas Act is like giving money to Solyndra, the failed solar company that the US government subsidized. There's a big difference. The Nat Gas Act supports an infrastructure for a system already proven. It's not reinventing a whole new technology plus an infrastructure. Likewise, I should add that corporate politics under the guise of so-called free market capitalism have played as much a role in holding back progress in the nat gas propulsion arena.
the laws of physics are not subject to politics. The remaining natural gas is going to be better used heating buildings in the winter. Relocalizing production makes more sense than pretending there is enough "natural" gas to run transportation. Sure, shale gas fracking has temporarily increased production, but the idea that there's "100 years" of natural gas in the US is disinformation, to be polite. Most fracked wells are short term production spikes, not a long term source. Natural gas is already about a sixth of the power grid and heats the majority of homes in the country -- adding a whole new use for natural gas would just make shortages happen faster. Last winter, a cold snap in New Mexico forced shutdowns to part of the natural gas system (because of overuse). The Pickens Plan is fantasy. Growing food locally makes more sense than pretending there are easy substitute. This message typed with solar electricity, which is great but won't run food shipments across time zones.