President Obama wants new American cars to average 55 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025. But Americans could be getting a fuel economy of 140 mpg right now while sharply cutting air pollution as well, if only the Environmental Protection Agency would get out of the way.
The key is to lift the regulatory burden to allow cars and trucks to be converted so they can run on ultra-cheap fuels that are currently glutting the market.
Around the world, vast amounts of natural gas (made as a by-product of oil production) are being “flared”: What cannot be processed or sold is simply disposed of by burning, which releases emissions into the atmosphere. In North Dakota alone, 10 billion cubic feet of gas are being flared every month, so much so that seen from space at night, the rural Bakken area of North Dakota is brighter than Minneapolis. Globally, the amount of flaring is 50 times greater. This is a huge waste of energy resources, and represents a significant environmental problem as well.
In places such as the Bakken, the gas is very rich in natural-gas liquids (NGLs) such as propane, butane, pentane, and hexane. A number of companies, including Recapture Solutions, Gtuit, and my own Pioneer Energy, have developed equipment to gather the NGLs at the flare site and truck them off to the market. Even so, about 30 percent of the gas is still being wasted through flaring. In other locations, such as the Marcellus, the liquid fraction is too low to make gathering by mobile systems economical, so all the gas ends up going up in smoke. But such economics are determined by price. With a limited domestic market for NGLs, their price has crashed. If a broader market were opened, much more of our NGLs would end up being captured instead of flared.
To demonstrate the possibilities, some workers at my company took a 2007 Chevy Cobalt, which gets 35 highway miles to the gallon on gasoline, and converted it to run on the mixed NGLs produced by one of our machines in North Dakota. The result: It got 35 mpg on the NGLs as well. That might not seem especially impressive, until you note that the NGLs are currently selling for about 60 cents per gallon, or one quarter the cost of unleaded. So, as far as fuel economy is concerned, the car was getting the equivalent of 140 mpg on gasoline.
What about emissions? The car passed Colorado’s strict emissions tests just fine on unleaded, but running on NGLs, it did significantly better, with CO emissions unchanged, hydrocarbon emissions cut 40 percent, and nitrogen oxides emissions reduced by 80 percent.
We then took a diesel-powered pickup truck and converted it to run on a 50-50 mix of diesel fuel and NGLs. Again, it got the same mileage on the cheaper diesel-NGL mix as it did on pure diesel, with emissions reduced as well.
In both cases, the conversion was not expensive: The parts required to do the job cost about $1,000 retail, and the conversion entails about three hours of labor. The average driver could earn that back in fuel savings in less than a year and be home free, running on cheap fuel ever after. By blocking innovation, the EPA is harming the environment, the economy, the nation’s capacity for self-defense, and the consumer.
The problem is the EPA. Under current rules, if any company were to offer NGL automobile conversions to the public on a commercial basis, it would be prosecuted for “tampering” with the car’s emission system. This would be so even if the company took every car it converted and put it through standard state emission testing before releasing it to the customer. According to the EPA, before any such converted cars could be released, they would each have to be put through the EPA’s own laborious testing process, which takes over six months and costs more than $70,000 per car. These regulations kill the possibility of launching any such conversion initiative.
So, as a result of EPA overregulation, massive amounts of NGLs are being flared instead of being put to good use, and Americans are being forced to pay for more expensive and more polluting fuels derived in significant part from foreign oil, instead of much cheaper and cleaner fuel that we can readily produce right here at home.
By blocking innovation, the EPA is harming the environment, the economy, the nation’s capacity for self-defense, and the consumer. Federal lawmakers need to change the rules so that vehicles converted to use new fuels can be put on the road; the only restriction should be that they pass the same standard state tests that all other cars do.
Can we achieve 140 mpg fuel economy? You bet. Just get the bureaucrats out of the way and Yankee ingenuity will do the rest.
Also see article at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/423334/EPA-reguations-prevent-cheap-gas-cars
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