“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

So what?

OK, so I started this driving experiment in August 2005 and I've saved 15 tanks of fuel or so. What does that mean? It's a difficult subject. It's not likely to postpone the onset of the effects of so-called "peak oil," even if I could get everyone in the country to do it. A case can be made that, if everyone in the U.S. started driving the way I've driven during this experiment, it would have a very measurable effect on the need for imported oil. Alone, it wouldn't stop it but it would be significant.

But what would it accomplish? Well, reduction in the U.S. demand for imported oil would presumably lower the price or at least influence prices in a downward direction, thereby encouraging consumption in China, India, etc. Clearly, the path these "developing nations" are on is leading them to find plenty of ways to use oil, and a lower price would accelerate that process. Even so, I believe that huge advantages would still be gained for the United States.

Let's look at some numbers. It's not easy (for a layperson such as myself anyway) to find definitive numbers for some of this, but I've given it my best shot. Should anyone have better information, I would welcome it.

Of the approximately 20.5 Megabarrels/day (Mbbl/day) of oil used in the U.S., about 13.7 Mbbl/day goes to transportation. As best I can determine, something like half of that, or 6.4 Mbbl/day goes to "non-commercial" transportation. This is where I make my impact. Suppose all the drivers in the U.S. took the "realistic" approach I mentioned in my first posting in this blog and that my estimates are correct. I had felt that a 15% gain in average fuel economy was reasonably achievable, but let's be more conservative. I believe that 10%, or .64 Mbbl/day could easily be saved. That amounts to about 5% of our oil imports.

What??!! Reducing speed from 70 m.p.h. to 55 m.p.h., avoiding drive-through windows and other unnecessary idling, judicious use of the gas pedal, etc. is only good for a 5% reduction in import demand? And EVERYONE would have to do it?? Well, it is one of many relatively painless steps that can be taken.

Suppose we really wanted to end our dependence on oil imports. If, instead of increasing our oil consumption annually, we reduced it by 5%, we would eliminate our dependence in 18 years. This assumes that U.S. petroleum production remains constant.

Of course, the reduction attained by conservative driving techniques represents 5% of imports, not 5% of consumption. So that, along with some other measure, would be the steps to be taken on the first of the 18 years. They only get harder after that.

I've carefully avoided controversial political aspects of oil use. In particular, I've brought up neither "peak oil" nor "greenhouse emissions" in this blog prior to this post. I started my experiment simply as a way to see how much gas (and money) I could save and at what cost in terms of frustration. The answer is that I can save about 500 gallons or over $1,500.00 per year. And though I've experienced very little frustration, I suspect I have frustrated some of those who have ridden with me and I'm certain that I've frustrated some of my fellow drivers.

Still, I believe that this is important. It has genuinely changed my outlook on my energy budget. I have become much more aware of my personal "energy leaks" and the leaks of my business and those around me. Much more will be required, but I won't dismiss the value of this small experiment in efficiency.

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