Energy independence, right now.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Brianschweitzer_2I first wrote about this last week over at, but now that Reuters has picked it up, I thought it might be useful to talk about here on BlueOregon.

The Democratic governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, is talking about an eighty-year-old technology that could help Montana alone "supply the entire United States with its aviation, gas and diesel fuel for 40 years without creating environmental damage."

"I am leading this country in this desire and demand to convert coal into gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. We can do it in Montana for $1 per gallon," he said.

"We can do it cheaper than importing oil from the sheiks, dictators, rats and crooks that we're bringing it from right now."

What's that?

Turns out that it's possible to convert coal into gasoline and diesel with zero emissions of mercury and the other pollutants usually associated with coal. So, why haven't we been doing this all along?

The Fischer-Tropsch technology, discovered by German researchers in 1923 and later used by the Nazis to convert coal into wartime fuels, was not economical as long as oil cost less than $30 a barrel. But with U.S. crude oil now hitting more than double that price, Gov. Brian Schweitzer's plan is getting more attention across the country and some analysts are taking him very seriously.

Damn right we should. Schweitzer might be on to something.

Oh, and one last thing. Schweitzer knows a few things about the Saudis of which he speaks: He lived there for seven years - and is fluent in Arabic. Learn more about Schweitzer over here.

  • Jon (unverified)

    Paul Robert's book The End of Oil provides a lot of detail on the process - and costs - carbon capture and sequestration that would be involved to cleanly convert coal into gasoline, diesel and other types of fuels. The costs - and storage issues - are non-trivial.

    Roberts' book provides a sobering view of "peak oil" and the energy, climate and economic dangers the U.S. and world face. He does, though, paint a picture of path forward including using natural gas as a "bridge" or transitional strategy until other alternatives (clean goal, hydrogen, renewables like wind/solar) are more developed and cost-effective.

    As for the near-term for America's energy future, see:

    "America and China in Hot Oil."

  • allehseya (unverified)

    The irony is that the coal would mean negotiating with Native American tribes again for the natural resources that remained in their care. According to Red Nova News:

    "Montana owns 600 million tons of coal, located alongside 600 million tons owned by Great Northern Properties and 1.2 billion tons owned by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe."

    It will be interesting to see how this one plays itself out. The word back on the territory is that this would create an industry that runs the risk of being as potentially corrupt as any other 'corporate' agenda in politics that Schweitzer (rightly) critiques when he states:

    "We cannot govern this country depending on Washington DC. Washington is a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate America."

    Try hanging around the Rez when there's talk about a casino to get a since of how easily it is to obtain unified direction or even majority consensus in Tribal Voting (along with all the rumours regarding the politics and money involved in various stances!). Dont get me wrong. I agree with the general premise of exploring the possibilities of alternative fuels and utilizing our resources at home as opposed to the rest of the worlds; but if this is to have any success of being anything other than yet another corporate / governement hand-in-hand model -- it will be due to PLAN's sucess in drafting the legislature to specifically avoid that -- and ensure that now when there is yet again a natural and valuable resource that is wanted: that the civil liberties wont be compromised and treatys wont be broken (again).

  • (Show?)

    Of course, gasoline has its own serious downside--the reality-based problem of global warming it causes. Democrats have used the energy-independence argument as a back-door environmental argument (quite wisely, in my view), and so it's useful to offer this technology as a stopgap as we confront the peak oil problem.

    But my understanding is that Schweitzer's actually a pretty strong enviro and doesn't believe we should continue to rely on fossil fuels as a prime energy source. Am I right on that? I'm leery to conflate the peak oil and global warming issues. We need to be strongly vigilant on the latter and savvy about the consequences on foreign policy of the former.

  • Ron Beasley (unverified)

    The problem I see is it's just a substitute "drug". We will be able to postpone addressing the real problem, our addiction to carbon fuels.

  • allehseya (unverified)

    [disclaimer: please excuse typos and grammatical errors in last post -- need tea.]

  • (Show?)

    The problem I see is it's just a substitute "drug". We will be able to postpone addressing the real problem, our addiction to carbon fuels.

    Sheesh, you enviros are really playing way out there on the fringes. From the way you're speaking, you'd think that we'd managed to deplete 50% of a resource that took nature a few hundred million years to create in less than 50 years or something.

    I agree that we need to address the addiction to carbon fuels, but unless we have some stop-gap solutions implemented, like yesterday, there is going to be a lot of suffering in this country while we shudder, shiver, and shake our way through the the end of the oil economy.

    PS - If Schweitzer were to announce that he is running for President in 2008, I'd go to work for him tomorrow. The guy gets the problems associated with corporate ownership of government, supports election reforms that actually do something about it, and does not suffer from the pro-capital elitism that has afflicted so many of our national Dems.

    More importantly, he is providing some commonsense alternatives to the status quo -- something that the Democratic base is begging for in this country.

  • H. S. Thompson (unverified)

    Dear Salvador,

    I echo your thoughts and opinions regarding Brian Schweitzer's promotion of the use of fuel processed from domestic coal as an alternative to imported oil.

    It will also be very interesting to see how long it takes for the state of Montana, the Federal Government and the usual cast of corporate greedhead remoras to figure out a way to chisel some of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe's 1.2 billion tons of coal into their own pockets.

    Then again, maybe not. Maybe this could be the fulfillment of the ancient prophesy of the White Buffalo? Perhaps the Cheyenne Nation will become the new Saudi Arabia and use this new well of wealth to implement a new era of American independence and reinvention and bring the Saudi oil industry to a screeching halt.

    It's a nice idea. Of coarse, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it happen. Unless Walmart starts negotiations with the Cheyenne Nation to buy coal that is. At some point, Walmart is gonna go after the fuel industry with the same ruthless savagery that it attacked and destroyed American manufacturing with.

    But Walmart doctrine is driven solely by the bottom line where price is king and salvation only comes from squeezing out every cent possible. If they can do business with the Cheyenne Nation cheaper than it costs to process import coal or oil, you can bet your last dollar that we'll all soon be seeing Walmart/Cheyenne Coal-Gas putting Exxon, BP, Mobil and the rest out of business. And who knows, maybe they'll wipe out Bush and the Texas oil industry too while they're at it. Wouldn't that be a site to see!

    I'll bet that's one method of domestic terrorism/revolution that neither the Republicans or the Democrats have considered.

    Walk in balance,

    Homer S. Thompson

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    It's good to see that folks are paying attention. The NYT did a long piece on peak oil in the last Sunday magazine that should make many more Americans aware of the problem.

    Utilizing coal reserves is a good idea, but doing it without destroying the land and water and worsening global warming will not be cheap. Also, this, or any other technology is not a replacement for serious efforts to reduce energy use. We cannot drill, mine, convert, and collect our way out of this. The combination of wind, solar, coal, geothermal, nuclear, etc. energy will not replace our unsustainable use of petroleum.

    No more v8 hemis for commuter vehicles, no more 4000# suv's, no more 3000+ square foot houses for two people, no more cheap air travel, no more food from around the world we can grow locally. We really need to learn to live lightly and do it very quickly, or most of us are going to die in uncomfortable poverty.

  • Michael (unverified)

    I tried to post something on this earlier, but somehow I messed up. So here's a second try. Our neighbors to the north control the Athabasca tar sand which have about 200 billion barrels of petroleum locked in them. It becomes economically feasible to recover that oil at a price of about $45 a barrel. With the Saudis producing about 10 million barrels daily there exist a possiblity that we have a potential source on hand to meet our needs for a long time to come. I'm not suggesting that we should not do a better job at conservation, or that we shouldn't look at alternatives but those who suggest the sky is falling are not helping. Fear mongering is something politicians specialize in. M.

  • Simp (unverified)

    How about energy independence, ummm.... 2 1/2 years ago?

    That's when I went to pure biodiesel. Since then my direct petroleum consumption is virtually nil.

    One of the less obvious advantages, is that the net CO2 emissions are virtually nil; due to it being part of a close, short-cycle carbon loop. Most other emissions are down about 30% to 60%, with the exeption of sulphates (pre-cursor to low level ozone pollution... the big nasty of petro-diesel) which are reduced 100% (biodiesel contains no sulphur).

    Of course this is not the end-all of solutions but it can be a HUGE part of it. Using Soy as a base crop for biofuels will certainly not cut it, however using sea algae as an oil source, it is possilbe to produce enormous amounts of oil for biofuels. Sounds like science fiction? Check out theUNH Biodiesel Group and this proof of concept operation that shows how you can use power plant emissions to cultivate sea algae as a source for biofuels.

    Best of all, biodiesel empowers individuals to make a change now instead of sitting around and waiting for a solution to be spoon fed to us.

  • Dave Haverfield (unverified)

    If one truly is an environmentalist, then the obvious answer to electrical production has to be nuclear. If you aren't familiar with the technical advances at the INEEL Department of Energy Site in Idaho since 1996 you aren't current at all. You can go to the site which is located about 35 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho between Arco, Idaho in the desert. Here the scientists are able to make nuclear reactors that are intrinsically safe, which cannot melt down and will produce more fuel than they burn called "Breeders". In fact the burning process is what helps to create more fuel using common uranium ore U-238 and producing plutonium U-239. The plutonium need not be weapons grade, in any event, it is safe and can be economical. One might argue that we don't want nuclear proliferation, if tiny and poor countries such as North Korea, Pakistan, India, Israel... can do it then who can't? One other thing the folks at the INEEL site at the EBR II reactor complex is doing is rendering waste materials to a fuel leaving a nearly harmless form that needs no significant containment site.

    Sailors, submariners and nuclear workers have shown that the technology can be safe and efficient. One can hardly get closer to a nuclear neactor than in a submarine, agreed? All one need do is to contact the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and can see in actual practice what is on the ground in Argonne (West)National Laboratory in Idaho. It's well worth the trip and the desert is awe inspiring.

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