Natural gas cars could offset imported oil, Matheson says
"What can the federal government do about the high price of gasoline?"
The question came from a member of the audience at last Friday's Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where Rep. Jim Matheson was fielding questions.
The answer was, a little bit, but not much. Here's the congressman's explanation:
Petroleum is traded on the world market, which means that global supply and demand set the price;
Of that global market, United States production amounts to about 10 percent;
So even if the US was to increase domestic production by 50 percent, it would only amount boost the US position to less than 15 percent of the world supply of oil.
However, there are two energy sources where this nation is not a minority player. They are nuclear power and natural gas.
Matheson said that the United States is the world's largest generator of nuclear-powered electricity. France gets a much higher percentage of its power from nuclear, but France is a much smaller nation, so at 20 percent, the US heads the list of kilowatt hours from nuclear. But nuclear is not a substitute for gasoline in cars.
Natural gas is - or could be. At $1.25 per gallon, it should be, he declared.
Noting the dramatic increase in natural gas and coal bed methane produced in the west - not to mention the 3,700 new wells slated for the Uinta Basin - the supply is there.
But there's a problem, a "chicken and egg situation," he said, that is preventing the switch from petroleum to methane.
First of all, there aren't all that many fuel stations offering natural gas. Why should auto makers or car buyers commit to natural gas engines if there's no place to fill up?
On the flip side, why should gas stations install natural gas beside the gasoline and diesel pumps if there's only one model of car on the market that needs it?
While Utah has more outlets per capita than elsewhere and more vehicles (Hondas) capable of using natural gas, more could be done nationally, he said.
He, along with 157 representatives from both sides of the aisle, are pushing the NATGAS Act of 2011 to provide incentives for both
car makers and buyers to make the switch.
(They love acronyms in D.C. The full title is the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011.)
Aside from being cheaper than gasoline - at least at today's prices - natural gas burns cleaner that gasoline or diesel, he noted, so there are environmental advantages.
While Castle Country doesn't have to be overly concerned with emissions, the people living along the Wasatch Front need to find some way to cope with the winter inversions that trap all the exhaust and cause a lingering haze.